Stream Exhumed’s Re-recorded ‘Gore Metal’ In Full

By on 4 February 2015

Gore Metal era band photo

Although its creators don’t actually think that it’s very good, EXHUMED’s 1988 debut has nonetheless gone down in death metal’s history books. With it’s recent make over release, MATT HARVEY looks back with fondness…

Words: José Carlos Santos

Perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some of the best things in life are beautifully, irreversibly flawed, and rather than spoil the experience, it’s those flaws that actually give things character and charm. We wouldn’t exactly call Exhumed’s 1998 debut ‘Gore Metal’ anything close to “charming”, but despite its many rough edges, the almost legendary (in the death metal underground at least) complications of its recording and even that artwork (it’s so bad that it’s… bad? Or good? We don’t even know), it’s almost universally, and deservedly so, hailed as a classic, and a more endearing one than usual at that. As it celebrates its seventeenth birthday, ‘Gore Metal’ is getting a makeover, the band having re-recorded it and presenting the resulting piece as ‘Gore Metal – A Necrospective 1998-2015’. More than ever, a return to the grisly days of the original ‘Gore Metal’ is needed for us to realise what is so damn fascinating about this troubled masterpiece and why it still seems to us as fresh as if it was only released yesterday, re-recordings or no re-recordings.“For me, I’d sum up ‘Gore Metal’ this way: a blown opportunity,” guitarist/vocalist Matt Harvey starts in his usually hilariously sharp style. Self-deprecating as it might be, he’s not joking, though. “I’ve always believed in the songs – in fact I don’t think I’ve improved as a riff-writer since I was sixteen, but I’ve hopefully improved as a songwriter – and this album was the first time I think we had really solid songs, like ‘Casketkrusher’ and ‘Sepulchral Slaughter’, those still hold up. But with the mix, the drum sound and some sub-par performances, I feel like we blew it with the album. Even when we recorded it, the consensus between Col [Jones, drummer], Ross [Sewage, bassist/vocalist] and I was that it wasn’t very good. That was about the only thing we agreed on.”

Such a brutally realistic viewpoint from an album’s main author would shatter any feelings we have for any other classic, right? But ‘Gore Metal’ is different, we almost kind of expect this sort of thing from it. In fact, we’re stupidly giddy for more stories like that. Matt, please.

“We didn’t have a consensus on the songs we chose for the record,” the frontman obliges. “I wanted to use some songs from our 7” EPs, Col was dead-set against it, we didn’t have a consensus on how long it should be – I wanted it to be 35 minutes, Ross wanted it to be an hour – we just weren’t on the same page going into the recording at all. Mike [Beams, guitarist] and I had completely different ideas about the guitar sound, and at the end, it became essentially a compromise that made none of us happy, except Mike, who I think was just happy to be making a record for an actual record label. There was so much friction between Ross and everyone and so many technical issues with James Murphy’s studio, that it wasn’t really a fun recording or anything. It was pretty much a struggle just to get stuff done, so it’s not really anything I look back on fondly like our other albums. With the re-recording, I feel like I finally have versions of the songs I can enjoy and be happy with, which was the main reason we did it, just to have a listenable version of the album that we can be proud of and a better representation of the songs.”

Geez, guys. How did all this start?

“I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to produce a good album, but since we had never recorded an album for a label, we didn’t have a clear idea of what that meant, just kind of an idealized view of it from the outside,” Matt argues. “And, as I mentioned before, we didn’t have the same ideas at all about how the album should be. We had a lot of self-imposed, mostly arbitrary ‘rules’ that we’ve slowly let go of as the years have ensued, but it was a harsh wake-up call when we got in there and started dealing with attempting to record at a ‘professional’ level. Col in particular butted heads with James, he had never used triggers and really wanted to get a natural, Mick Harris sort of drum sound, and what we got was anything but. Col, Ross and I are all very stubborn, strong-willed ‘leader’ types, and when each of us had a separate idea of what the perfect debut album should be and we were trying really hard to put our best foot forward, the result ended up being very disjointed. We didn’t really have our priorities straight, we were more concerned with being what we thought of as ‘true death metal’ than things like intonating our guitars, using new strings, tuning the drums, working on getting a good bass sound, the stuff that preparing for an album really is about.”

On top of it, the label in question was Relapse, which kind of just upped the ante responsibility-wise, surely.

“Relapse kind of turned us loose with a minimal budget – $1800, which was probably less then than it is today considering the advancements and availability of technology in the studio,” Matt says. “We spent just over a week total on the album. They kind of thought of us as this underground grind band that would be fine with a raw sound – which was accurate – where in our minds, we were going to make the next ‘Leprosy’ or something, haha! We had a lot of ambition – not much direction or ability, but our expectations were probably much higher than anyone else’s, which is why we all hated the album!”

There are millions of stories of albums ruined by this exact same kind of environment, so how in the hell did ‘Gore Metal’ hold up even when hated by its very creators? While Matt isn’t sure it really does, hence the re-recording, some of his revelations about the writing and planning for it do help understand how the beast did actually have a soul underneath all the ugliness.

“The objective was to make a landmark album that would somehow bring back the Death Metal of the late ’80s that we were into, which sounds preposterously pretentious now, but we were a lot younger and more naive about things back then,” he says with a laugh. “I personally took it upon myself to defend that sound and preserve it for whatever reason. And I also resented other bands that then started doing something similar, I felt like it was our sovereign realm and we should be the only ones interpreting that sound. Again, I was a lot younger and dumber then!”

And that cover, dude. That cover.

Original Cover“Ross had been developing his photography skills for a couple of years and had done some special effects type stuff, like what we did for the ‘Totally Fucking Dead’ 7” cover, so deserves most of the credit, although he hates it. It was inspired first and foremost by ‘Violent Restitution’ by Razor and then by bringing in all the elements from our stage show, pig guts and blood, horse bones that we used to stomp on and shit, the crappy fake severed head… We would spit out live worms on people in the audience, and Ross would even go as far as to cut himself and bleed on people every so often. The show eventually would devolve into a food fight with brains, entrails, and real blood. We used to get home caked in blood and shit. Col’s ex-wife was vegetarian (so was he at the time) and she wouldn’t let him in the house after our shows. She would turn the hose on him in their driveway before he could come in! Anyway, we were trying to sort of cram all of that into the cover and we did it at my old apartment. I hated my roommate, and he went out of town for the weekend, so Mike, Ross and I just went to town. That’s the one element of the original album I still really like – the cover. And it definitely helped us get some press and some attention, it was just so over the top. I’m really glad there’s no Photoshop involved, not much editing, pretty much just some blood and guts in a kitchen! Also, it was my hand holding the chainsaw, in case anyone was wondering! I’m sure we were going for a kind of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre II’ thing with the cannibal kitchen and the sort of goofy sense of humour – I mean, there’s a bottle of malt liquor in there.”

As Matt loosens up, it’s clear even he can’t help but have a soft spot for the damn thing.

“To me, I always think that it’ll be the next album that’ll be the best and most definitive,” he offers. “But ‘Gore Metal’ certainly succeeded in setting the tone for our other records and was very much a ‘statement’ kind of album. We can’t start singing about outer space or girls or whatever after that. We committed to the imagery and the vibe right off the bat, so in that sense it is definitive. On one hand, I expected it to have some influence over people – in my mind it was specifically designed to be a statement and kind of give a potential audience something to rally behind and identify with, on the other had, it’s a pretty goofy, not particularly well-done album, so from that perspective it’s quite surprising. I mean, it’s certainly not in danger of becoming the next ‘Reign In Blood’, but it turned out to profoundly influence my life anyway, and I guess that’s ultimately the most important thing.”

‘Gore Metal – A Necrospective 1998-2015’ is out now on Relapse

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