Interview with vocalist/guitarist Matt Harvey | By Tom Crandle
Orlando, Florida’s Death were undoubtedly one of the most important and influential heavy metal bands of all time. Chuck Schuldiner and a rotating supporting cast were crucial in the development of death metal and other extreme music. Tragically, Death came to an untimely end in 2001 when Schuldiner died of brain cancer at the age of 34.
Gruesome are a metal supergroup devoted to celebrating the musical legacy of Death. The project is the brainchild of vocalist and guitarist Matt Harvey of Exhumed and drummer Gus Rios, formerly of Malevolent Creation. Both were involved with Death To All, a touring tribute to Death, and the outing was their original inspiration for writing new songs in the style of early Death albums. The California- and Florida-based quartet are rounded out by guitarist Daniel Gonzalez of Possessed and bassist Robin Mazen of Castrator.
Gruesome released their second LP, following 2015’s Savage Land, through Relapse Records on June 1. Twisted Prayers is an homage to Death’s 1990 masterpiece Spiritual Healing. It’s a record that’s more melodic and technical than the band’s earlier work.
Harvey admits that it can be a bit intimidating trying to fill such big shoes. “Obviously, Death is a band that means a lot to a lot of people, including the members of the band,” he says. “I think that is a heavy thing to think about, so I put it out of my mind when I’m writing the riffs and stuff. I think of it more as a fun thing for myself to enjoy.”
“At the same time, I’ve been listening to Death for 30 years now, and they’ve been an important influence on the stuff I’ve done the whole time,” he adds. “So, there’s a part of me that thinks, ‘If not me, then who?’ You know? You need a bit of hubris to take that first step out your front door and start the adventure. Luckily, I work with fantastic band members, and everyone else around the band is great, from our producer Jarrett [Pritchard] to the folks at Relapse to my friends who were former members of Death. They would tell me if the stuff we were doing sucked.”
In a day and age where bands often take years between records, Gruesome already have four releases in their four short years of existence—not counting several demos and a single. Harvey has a logical explanation for their productivity. “We have a handy blueprint to follow, which takes a lot of the heavy lifting off of my shoulders,” he says. “We never have to look for a direction, you know? That helps a lot, but I’m also a prolific writer overall.”
Gruesome payed attention to the details when making Twisted Prayers, and Harvey has nothing but praise for Pritchard. “I think, sonically, this record is so close to the source material it’s bordering on indistinguishable, which is what we’re striving for,” he says. “We want everything about the record to feel like the lost half of a Spiritual Healing double-album.” Legendary Death guitarist James Murphy also appears for two guest solos. The artwork was even done by Ed Repka, who created the covers for the first three Death albums.
Harvey went so far as to try to understand Schuldiner’s influences at the time. “I remember the late ’80s and early ’90s really well: the horror movies, the cultural climate, and the sorts of fears and concerns that people had then,” he explains. “The biggest guiding light for the lyrics for Twisted Prayers came from something very simple that [former Death bassist] Terry [Butler] told me, that the main lyrical influence on Spiritual Healing was the Six O’Clock News. Once he told me that, something kind of clicked, and the lyrics came quite quickly after that.”
Gruesome’s sound has progressed in the same way that Death’s did. According to Harvey, this was part of the master plan. “It’s 100 percent a conscious decision,” he elaborates. “This band is quite different in that it’s now become totally planned. It’s almost an academic process of analyzing all aspects of Death and, then, reproducing them with our own songs.”
“It’s very unlike a normal band situation, which is about finding your own voice and perspective and expressing that,” he adds. “We’re trying our best to completely mute our own voice and speak for someone else. Kind of ‘death metal method acting,’ if you will.”
Harvey is candid about the avenues left for Gruesome to explore. “There’s still [1991’s] Human, [1993’s] Individual Thought Patterns, [1995’s] Symbolic, and [1998’s] The Sound of Perseverance, so I’d say we have our work cut out for us,” he says.
However, Harvey has no intention of taking the sound further than Schuldiner was able to, due to his short life. “Not with Gruesome, no,” he concludes. “The band exists to honor the legacy of Death and the work of Chuck and the guys. To take that and do our own thing would be disrespectful to the source material.”