Exhumed are one of those bands who are synonymous with a certain style of death metal. Gritty, gruesome, gory and malodorous, they gleefully merge grindcore, death metal and punk attitude in what has become an iconic palette of extremity. And while you can always tell when you are listening to an Exhumed song, the band its not satisfied to sit on their entrail-strewn laurels. With every album, the band continues to refine and reinterpret their sound some twenty years into their career.
Twenty-seveneen’s Death Revenge was a pulp-horror rock opera while 2019’s Horror is as close to Back in Black as any grindcore album is likely to come in our lifetime (or afterlife!). In addition to cultivating a particularly putrid style, they’ve maintained a near-constant touring schedule over the course of their career (their ten-year hiatus notwithstanding), learning what makes metalheads mean little brains tick and then giving them a taste of the vivisecting exhibition they so dearly crave- night after night.
Needless to say, having to hunker down due to the pandemic was pretty hard for the fellas in Exhumed. But they survived- with their sanity and skills intact (mostly). Now, finally, vax and raring to burn rubber, the band have embarked on their first tour in over a year and a half this fall- a tour sponsored by New Noise Magazine (You’re welcome!), amount others.
With our partnership inked in blood and oaths to each other pledged over a goatskin cloth and a VHS copy of Wizard of Gore, it only seemed right to drop in on the band and see how they are feeling after being off for so long. Matt Harvey, the Exhumed’s vocalist and guitarist, was more than happy to oblige, sharing some insights ontheir tour and what they have in store for next year. You can read our conversation below:
Interview conducted via phone on July 21, 2021. The transcript has been edited for the sake of clarity.
I have to say that you gave a really good interview about two years ago for New Noise. I’m hard-pressed to follow it up.
Well, you know, ask me anything. Let’s see what we can do.
So New Noise supported you on your upcoming tour. So I guess we should talk about that. What does it feel like to be planning a tour after 18 months of not even being able to do anything like that?
It feels really good. It also feels, you know, maybe a little bit scary too. In the back of my mind, I feel like there’s always a possibility of the rug getting pulled out from under us again. Especially with Delta variant and the unwillingness of the unvaccinated population to just, you know, join the winning team, so that we can all get on with our fucking lives. So there’s a little bit of trepidation as far as that goes, but mostly it’s just excitement to get back to normal, to get back to doing what we love to do. And especially because none of us live in the same area anymore, I just miss my boys, you know?
Did anybody move during COVID? Or had you guys kind of dispersed before that?
We dispersed a little bit before that. Our drummer and I have been living in the same area for almost 10 years now. But he moved out before the pandemic. He moved to Ohio, which made a lot of sense for him. Although, it’s kind of less than ideal for the band. But I mean, it is what it is. Our guitar player, Sebastian has been in Baltimore the whole time. And he’s been playing with us, and Ross lives a few hours away in the Bay Area, so we’re pretty much used to it, you know.
OK, but you’re still in California.
Yeah, Raphael is in California too, and we’re about three hours away from each other. And then the other guys are all out East.
So you were used to operating remotely even before the pandemic. Did anything really change for you when the lockdown went into place?
You know, I’m incredibly fortunate in that I kept my job. For three months it was a little stressful. But my wife and I kept our jobs and we stayed healthy. My immediate family stayed very healthy this whole time. But it feels like it’s been the longest year and a half of my life.
But I don’t really have anything major to complain about. Even though I know a couple of my close friends had to be hospitalized because of COVID and stuff. My aunt who was in a nursing home ended up passing away because of it. But compared to what a lot of people have been through, you know, I’ve been very lucky, and I’ve been living in a small town now for the last 10 years. And it’s definitely a better place to be during the last year and a half than any major city because the population is smaller. It’s more spread out.
So even you know, when my friends in LA or my friends in the Bay Area were really locked down, some said they hadn’t left their house for two weeks, but even then, we still had outdoor dining, or we could go to the brewery and drink so as long as you socially distanced and wore a mask inside. And it’s California, so even in the winter, you can still be okay outside and stuff. So it didn’t infringe on my day-to-day too much, but still, not playing shows, not seeing people- it takes its toll.
I guess I should ask at this point what your position is on people getting vaccinated- as somebody who makes a living seeing about death and disease…
I mean, I would urge anybody that’s not vaccinated to please get vaccinated. Our original drummer in Exhumed, he’s a cancer researcher, and so he’s very knowledgeable about how medicines work and how vaccines work and how they’re developed and all this kind of stuff. And I had a long talk with him about it, and he explained the science behind it to me, and it just doubly convinced me that it’s safe, and won’t give you 5G, or change my DNA or any of that stuff. The worst it might do is make you feel bad for a couple of days or not be 100% effective. So it is a pretty small risk to take.
And so, for what’s it was worth, I would urge everybody to get vaccinated. Of course, I can’t police the world; I’m not in charge of the world. And, you know, people are gonna do what people are gonna do, regardless of what some guy says. And I mean, of course, we sing about death and disease and all these horrible things, but, you know, that doesn’t mean that I want anyone to die, get sick, or have horrible things happen to them. There’s artistic value in exploring these topics through music, but I don’t want anybody to get sick and die. Not even people who I don’t like.
Right. Not being vaccinated doesn’t make you more metal.
If you’re into pathological, grind, medical stuff, maybe you could make that claim. [Laughs] Ultimately, to me, I get that people are distrustful of the government and these faceless unaccountable corporations and organizations that are mandating you to do things. I understand that sort of knee-jerk reaction against that kind of authority. I totally get it. I think, to be nonskeptical is really dangerous.
But, at the same time, there’s healthy skepticism and than there’s just being contrary. And I have friends who are very against getting the vaccine, and it’s like, I know, their position, they know my position, and it’s like, “Well, cool, because we’re still friends about other stuff. So let’s not argue.” But it feels a little bit like a teenager throwing a tantrum. Like, “I’m not gonna do this. Fuck you. You can’t make me.” And they’re right. I can’t.
Ok, but you still want people to be able to come out and see you.
Absolutely. I was a weird thing, because I just did two shows with Gruesome in Florida. Obviously, Florida is a place where infections are increasingly rising due to the Delta variant. I really thought about it and felt concerned during the shows. Ultimately, I was like, “Well, as long as everyone in the band is vaccinated, we’re doing our part.” And at this point, anybody who wants it, has gotten it. And if they’ve chosen not to, and they come out and get sick, I mean, not be a dick, but that’s kind of on them. I had no problem halting my lifestyle and my livelihood, or whatever you want to call being on the road. It is really a lifestyle, though.
Anyway, I put my life on hold until there’s a way to prevent everybody getting sick all the time. I feel like I’ve done my part. I waited. I got the vaccine. Now, if you’re gonna come out and get sick, that’s on you. Obviously, I don’t want people to get sick. I can’t please people all the time. I’m not the boss. I’m not even the boss of my own band half the time. [Laughs]
That’s the unfortunate part of how the whole pandemic has played out. The costs have been mostly individualized. Thankfully, the vaccine is subsidized and made available to people at no cost. But that’s the only part that’s been socialized, with everything else, the burden has just totally fallen on individuals. And that’s resulted in some really heartbreaking situations.
Absolutely. Yeah, obviously, I’ve talked to a lot of friends who are musicians and tour for a living all about the resistance in people. I think in the United States there is a disaster fetishism in our culture, where you have these people who are preparing for society’s collapse, and are waiting for the government to come get them. And invariably, that sort of preparation revolves around readiness and willingness to commit acts of violence. That’s it, that’s the American idea of being prepared for disaster- buy some guns, get a fucking basement full of canned food, yada, yada, yada.
And really, when a disaster finally did strike, what it took was patience and cooperation. And I think that’s why people are so adamantly against the vaccine. It flies in the face of everything that they have been brought to believe about these kinds of disasters. These kinds of society threatening situations. It’s like they’ve been preparing for a fire their whole life and instead they get a flood. They don’t want to accept that. It strikes at the core of who they are and how they perceive the world. I think that’s why resistance to it has taken off and reached such an irrational level and why it resonates with such a large portion of the population.
It’s much sexier to think about Road Warrior times- killing people for gas because you’re like a badass, dude. I love all those movies. And that’s kind of what the entire thrash metal genre was basically about back in the day. I fucking get it. That stuff is awesome. But that’s not how it came down. It came down to, can you take others into consideration, and can you cooperate and take direction. And that’s sort of a less sexy thing to embrace,
There’s a practical aspect to the apocalypse watching movies doesn’t prepare you for.
The last time I saw you, the surgeon character that you have on stage with you, I remember him playing a guitar with a saw of some kind. It was impressive but there were a lot of sparks. How do you prepare for something like that? Because, as I said, there were sparks involved. And I could see how that going south pretty quickly.
Well, they’re cold sparks, so they’re not flammable. And thankfully, we have people in the band who are much more handy than I am, and have a much greater understanding of how this stuff works. Where as I am like, “Can we blow some stuff up?” And they are like, “No, but we can do this or that, and it will be safe.” [Laughs] But you know, our agent obviously has to talk to the venues, and he explains what it is we do. And then we, the band, talk to the venues before we get there as well, so that they know that it’s gonna be fun and it’s also gonna be safe. We also explain what the cleanup entails and what we usually do, so that’s a whole new kind of wrinkle to the equation.
But when I play with my other bands, like Gruesome or Pounder, it’s great, because it’s like, “Okay, four men in jeans, or three men and a woman in jeans are gonna come and play metal, and then that’s it.” [Laughs[ We’ve got a backdrop, that’s all. Whereas with Exhumed, it’s like “Okay, so there’s gonna be some sparks, there are going to be some gas powered motorized gadgets, there is going to be this and that…” And it can get a little complicated.
Right, with Gruesome you don’t have to assure anybody that you’re not going to burn their business.
Yeah, it’s definitely prevented us from playing certain venues. Like, there was a club in San Francisco that we played on our first time back, and the show was great, and everybody was super happy, but they were not cool with some of the stuff that we wanted to do… So we’re like, “Well, I guess we can’t play the nice places anymore.” [Laughs] I guess it’s back to Oakland and the fucking punk rock room that we usually play, because we can just do whatever we want there.
Ok, so back some of the weirder, smaller venues it is. What was it about your show that that venue pushed back on you about? What didn’t they like?
The place was called Slim’s, it’s in San Francisco [now permanently closed RIP]. And what they didn’t like was the fact that the chainsaw was gasoline-powered. And they were just like, “Yeah, that’s not going to fly.” At first, they were like, “nope, none of this.” And then we talked, and went back and forth, and finally, they were like, “Okay, we get it with all this other stuff, but the gasoline-powered chainsaw is not happening.” And I was like, “Well, that sucks. But I mean, we’re not gonna cancel the show.”
But now, because of various things like that, we actually have different chainsaws, and we can run some sounds effect over the PA if we have to, but it is not as effective. And honestly, the smell of gasoline… anyone that has seen us a bunch of times, always remarks, “Yo! I can smell that fucking gasoline, dude!” And I’m like, “Oooooh, yeaaaah!” [Laughs] So, you know, the smell is actually part of the show! But, we try to be adaptable and we don’t want to fucking endanger anybody.
So is it the exhaust in the room that venues don’t like, or are they actually worried about a fire hazard … someone getting cut in half, what?
Um, I may be misremembering, but [at Slim’s] I believe it was the fact that we had gas and it was potentially very flammable. It’s been quite a few years now. So I could be wrong…
Does it feel weird being considered a kind of legend, or an institution at this point in your career? I mean, you’ve had a long career, but you’re also a really down-to-earth guy, with a practical approach to things. Does it feel weird when people tell you that you’re a god, and use all those superlatives that people employ to talk about metal?
It is weird. On the one hand, I certainly am not above being told nice things about myself, or my work. [Laughs] But when that started, I didn’t enjoy it. You just can’t get hung up on that kind of stuff. And for better or for worse, because there are also going to be people out there who will think your band sucks. But ultimately, I’m just doing this for the same reasons I’ve always done it. Because I love music and I think that we have something to say, that’s worthwhile, even after all these years.
And I guess it’s good that people consider it as an institution or whatever, because that’s what enables us to keep going out and doing this year after year. So, on one hand, it’s great, but on the other hand, it’s not something that you want to spend too much time thinking about. Because at the end of the day, being a death metal legend… that and $2 will get you a Coca Cola. [Laughs] It is what it is. You don’t want to carry that with you in your normal life and get too big for your britches, or whatever.
You have to keep things in perspective.
Yeah, and it’s also about not resting on your laurels and finding a reason to try and make everything you do as good as possible. If you feel like you’ve got nothing to prove, then that’s how you get complacent. That is how you get boring. And we don’t want to be one of those bands, where people are like, “Oh, you know, I like these three or four albums, but I don’t need to hear the new one because they just kind of do the same thing again, and again,” or, “You know, I don’t need to go to the show, because I’ve seen them three times, and it’s kind of the same every time.”
So we want to keep pushing ourselves as much as we can. And it’s not that we don’t think that we’re good at what we do. I mean, obviously, we do, or we wouldn’t be out there doing it. But, you know, we don’t want that to get in the way of kind of finding something new and interesting to say. It’s not enough just to show up and be like, “Hey! We’re us, like, give us beer and kiss our ass.” That’s a bullshit attitude.
I’d like to talk a little bit about how you guys do manage to keep things fresh. Because death metal has been around for more than thirty years at this point. A lot of people have contributed to it and made it what it is today. And I’m curious, how do you refine something that is already so well-tuned?
It is a challenge, to be honest. Not only has death metal been around for so long, but we’ve also been around for so long. So it’s kind of hard to find ground that’s new. But, you know, I kind of look at the things that we can do as kind of like a painter’s palette. There are only so many colors you can kind of work with. But at the same time, it can be really interesting to think, “Ok, what if we did an album that really concentrates on just this one kind of sound?” Obviously, with Horror it was all about stripping everything away. And with Death Revenge we kind made like an opera or a concept album that was very elaborate. It had a 7 minute instrumental and film music sections and shit.
And it’s like, “Okay, well, that turned out pretty good. But can we make a good album with none of that now?” [Laughs] Like, no guitar harmonies. No heroic solos. No nothing. Just four guys playing really aggressively. It’s like pizza. You can have a pizza with tons of toppings, but if the crust and the cheese and sauce isn’t any good, then you kind of got nothing. So we just wanted to make a really good cheese pizza with the last album. Because Death Revenge was like a supreme plus with a million toppings on there [Laughs].
So it’s just about finding different parts to approach, or different parts to emphasize. And I think the other thing that helps is that we all listen to a lot of music outside of the genre. We just don’t sit around listening to Deicide and Suffocation all day. I mean, not that I never listened to those bands. But you know, I listen to just about everything. And I think having any sort of a broader musical scope outside of just metal or extreme metal, I think it’s going to inform the music in different ways that are hopefully going to make it something other than cookie-cutter.
It’s interesting to hear you describe Horror because when I first heard it, my immediate thought was, “Wow, this is is like a reset. They are doing a pallet cleanse after Death Revenge.” So yeah, thanks for validating my assessment.
Right, well you can only go so far, and then you kind of have a choice. Because if you go any further, after a point, then you’re sort of fundamentally altering what it is you set out to do. Like back in 1998, our first record, we were looking back to the era before us with that record- like early American death metal and thrash. So we started at a point of nostalgia, and if we went too far afield from that, I’d feel like we would be disrespecting where we came from.
Where do you go after an album like Horror?
Well, we just approved masters for our next record. It will be coming out next year- Which is because of pressing delays and the fact that so many bands put off their releases, so this whole year is going to be sort of a deluge of stuff [from other bands]. I think the new record… it’s certainly more musically developed than Horror, but it is still very straightforward. I guess it feels more like a pure death metal album. Whereas I think Death Revenge is really melodic, and Horror is like a grindcore album. To me, I feel like this new record is very death metal. But then again, we’ll see, by the time it comes out in six or eight months, I could be way off base. [Laughs] Right now, I’m just way too close to it. But I still think it sounds like Exhumed. I think it’s very grimy. And we’ve moved away from the kind of rock tones we used on the last album. Whereas before, we were really obsessed with getting these sort of, like, hard rock tones into our idiom. The new record is going to lean into something a little more gross.
No more Wolverine Blues.
[Laughs] Yeah, I mean, with Horror, the way that we produced it and everything, we could have been making an AC/DC album on steroids, like sonically. [Laughs] So we are doing a 180 for the next one. Hopefully, it works. We’ll find out next year.
Well, I am excited to hear you guys do an even more back to basics record than Horror. A back beyond-the-basics album. Not just grind and hard rock, but like old school, primordial 90s death metal. Something I was hoping to get your opinion on is this new phrase people are using, Old School Death Metal, or OSDM. People apply it to bands who I think are not doing things you would have heard in the ’80s and ’90s, like Blood Incantation. They play death metal, sure, but they also throw in a lot of psyche and space rock, which was not something you would have heard back in the day. Do you think it’s a useful term at all?
For some of those bands, like Skeletal Remains, they sound like something I would have bought at the Warehouse on cassette back 1991 or ‘92. But like Blood Incantation, like you said, sounds more like if Morbid Angel played space rock.[Laughs] But when ever a genre gets rediscovered, even people who are really trying to slavishly recreate it, they are going to come up with something a little bit different. And, to them, it’s all the same, because they weren’t listening to it [back in the day]. And that’s not a knock at all. In fact, it’s good to have fresh perspective. It’s good to have people in their early 20s contributing something at the underground level, because for far too long it’s been guys who are my age and older. And so to me, it’s refreshing. It doesn’t mean that I like every band or whatever. But it’s just refreshing to have a sort of infusion of interest in the style.
And, of course, it’s gonna come out a little bit differently. Thankfully! Because, you know what, all those old records are still out there and you can still listen to them if you want. So we don’t need somebody to be like, “Hey, look, this just sounds like Alters of Madness.” When it’s like, “Yeah, I mean, we already have Alters of Madness.” [Laughs] At the same time, though, Gruesome is a project that does strive to slavishly recreate what Death was doing. But we still can’t help but put our own twist on it, despite our best efforts to the contrary. But it’s also just part of the same general cultural nostalgia.
Right now, people are looking back to the ’90s. Just like, for years people were obsessed with the ’80s. And I feel like the ’80s nostalgia went on at least twice as long as the ’80s. [Laughs] And now we’re moving into an era where people are looking back on the ’90s. And that’s just how it works. You know, in the ’80s, you watched the Wonder Years on TV, and in the ’70s you watched Happy Days, and in the ’90s you had That 70s Show. Our pop culture is always going to be looking back. And when you look back at the past, you can’t help but infuse it with the zeitgeist of the present. Which is cool. That’s why the past stays vital. And that’s why it’s so interesting. It’s just part of the cycle of life. I remember, at some point in the ’90s, I heard Van Halen on the classic rock station, and I was like, “What the fuck is Van Halen doing on the classic rock station?!? This is like for The Doors, dude! Why?!?” And it’s just the cycle of life. You know? Things are cool, then they become fucking lame, and then eventually, they become cool again.
Right, even attempts to copy what was done previously can’t escape having elements of what’s happening now in them.
I remember reading this article about what makes something cool. And what it said was that, “Cool is when you take something familiar and make it feel new, or when you take the new and make it feel familiar.” Star Wars is the easiest example because it hearkened back to post-1930s Hollywood. It was an idealistic fairy tale, during a time when every movie was like Taxi Driver or Dirty Harry. And it’s like bringing in stuff that people already know about, but they’ve made it into this new thing. And that’s why people lost their shit for it. I think that’s why Blood Incantation, Necrot, Skeletal Remains, or any number of these new death metal bands resonate with people is because they are doing something familiar, but it feels new, because its new people doing it. And without that, the genre is gonna stagnate. It’s just going to be a bunch of people my age and older who kind of fold their arms, and go “Well, you know, it’s not the Nihilist demo.” And you know what, it’s not. But that was 30 years ago, and this is now, and the fact that people are still interested in this style of music is ultimately the most important thing. Whether or not some guy that’s 50 likes some 20-year-old kid’s band- that’s irrelevant. The genre can’t survive in total stagnation.
It’s fantastic that you can say that you’re in a death metal band these days and someone who is 16 will go, “Oh, I know what that is. And I think that is cool.”
Right? Because back in 2005 people would be like, “What? Is that like that screamo stuff?” [Laughs]
Yeah, that was a strange time when death metal was synonymous with, like, Fit for an Autopsy.
Oh, give it a few years. I’m sure people will start getting nostalgic for that as well.
They already are! That has already started. It’s not as big now as it’s going to be, but I don’t think people are ready for how big it’s going to get. I get emails from people promoting post-hardcore band with death vocals, calling it a deathcore revival all the time. And I’m like, “Already? We just got done with that. Wasn’t that just like five years ago?” Anyway, it’s definitely already getting some traction.
I think that’s just a sign of your age. The older you get, the faster stuff comes back around. Like “What? We’re doing that again. Already?” But as a guy whose first album came out in 1998, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping that people get nostalgic for that too. [Laughs] Because that’s only going to help us be able to do more tours and make more money and do good things for the band. Not to be cynical, but I’ve seen all this stuff cycled through a few times and I’m kind of hoping that the gravy train might come my way at some point.
Let you dip your ladle in?
What can we expect your solo album?
That is coming out in August. The exact date escapes me [Editor Note: Last Son of Krypton dropped August 25, 2021]. The easiest way to describe it would be soundtrack music, but there’s not a film involved. Sort of orchestral synth stuff, but there’s like a narrative arc. Not, like any speaking parts, but the music is intended to follow a story arc and stuff. I have no idea if people are going to hate it. Or even notice it enough to hate it or whatever. [Laughs] But, you know, it’s been a passion project for me.
I’m glad to hear you are going in a cinematic route with it. Because usually when somebody says a solo record, it means “Oh, it’s just me and my guitar and my poetry book.”
Oh no, I’m trying to do the opposite of that. It’s a sort of weird thing that I have no idea that anyone wants. I have no idea if there is any kind of market for it, but I guess we’ll find out.
Cool, I’ll have to check it out when it drops. Are there any shoutouts or anything that you want to add before we wrap up?
I just want to reiterate that, we’re really fucking excited to get back on the road. We missed everybody. And hopefully, they’ve missed us. And we’re going to do our best to bring a great show for people. And, you know, we’re grateful to have the opportunity to be back out there. And just as people are excited about shows returning, we’re as excited about the opportunity to go and do our thing again. So we’ll see people out there…. But we get free beer, so I’m gonna have a good time.
Right, right. So people better show up and drink beer with you.
[Laughs] Oh yeah, but I’ll be drinking regardless.
Image courtesy of the band.