A Vital Conversation
CoC chats with Joe Lewis of Vital Remains
by: Aaron McKay
This month provided a bona fide treat for me. Through the course of e-mail and "snail mail", I was able to converse with a truly accomplished individual, Joe Lewis of the mighty Vital Remains. Having met Tony Lazaro, Vital Remains' guitarist, at this last year's Milwaukee Metalfest, the course of our discussion there yielded the conceptualization for the following interview, laid out for you below. I welcome you to continue on as I attempt to pry inside the mind of one of death metal's brutal taskmasters.

CoC: I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to interview you, Joe, especially surrounding the circumstance of _Dawn of the Apocalypse_'s much anticipated release! First off, most people assume that Vital Remains is a somewhat newer band, but actually VR has been around for a long time. Could you recount some of the band's beginnings for the CoC readers, please?

Joe Lewis: The band was formed in 1989, with the success of promoting two self-financed demos and one 7" vinyl. We quickly landed a record contract with Peaceville Records and released two full length CDs with them. We then signed with Osmose Productions in 1996 for two albums; the first was released in May 1997, _Forever Underground_, and the second will be released on October 25th, 1999, titled _Dawn of the Apocalypse_.

CoC: I understand that Cryonics Records, from Holland, will be releasing Vital Remains' 1989 demo _Reduced to Ashes_ on disc. Is this a fact?

JL: Yes, it's true, and it already has been released. Only 500 copies are available, so it will be a collector's item! It has some old photos enclosed in the CD booklet! Get it while you can. We thought it would be a cool idea to release it. Not too many Vital Remains fans ever heard this demo.

CoC: On the topic of touring, my inaugural exposure to Vital Remains was in the pages of CoC in 1997 when you were in Chicago with Vader, Malevolent Creation, and Ember (I believe). In the fall of that same year VR was given the chance to tour overseas with Infernal Majesty. What was your take on that year on the road and your impressions of VR fans outside of the U.S.?

JL: Yeah, we got to tour Europe in the fall of 1997 with Vader, Malevolent Creation and Infernal Majesty. The tour was absolutely fantastic! We visited 29 cities through 15 different countries overseas. The fans in Europe are great! They are for sure die-hard metal fans there! We're looking forward to once again touring Europe soon after the release of our new CD, _Dawn of the Apocalypse_, on October 25th (Europe) and October 30th (USA).

CoC: In regards to _Forever Underground_ (a -killer- release, I might add), would you say that this 1997 release was a catalyst for VR -- making the band more or less a household name among the metal community?

JL: Thanks. We just write our songs the way we feel we should. We definitely progressed over the years and we only get better as time goes on. We hope that everyone likes our music. If not, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and that's okay with me. We want to create the best possible death metal and top each album with the next!

CoC: As far as the song "I Am God" is concerned, what a masterpiece! Coupled with the mighty "Battle Ground", did you, personally, find that these two tracks distinguished Vital Remains more from the horde of metal musicians, or did they draw more comparisons for VR to bands like Morbid Angel and their ilk?

JL: Thanks again! Those are two great songs. Uh... I really don't hear any comparison between our music and anyone else's. We don't try and copy anyone's style. We started back in 1988 as a brutal death metal band with the intention of creating the most extreme music we possibly could, and, as I said, each release has been better than the previous. But if these songs are to be compared to Morbid Angel, I'll take that as a compliment! Morbid Angel is one of my favorite death metal bands.

CoC: I am in awe of track four on _Forever Underground_, "Farewell to the Messiah". What was the inspiration for going a completely different direction with this brief minute and twenty nine second song?

JL: "Farewell to the Messiah" was something Tony made up in the studio for extra space on one of the tape reels. I really don't have a clue what his inspiration was for including this piece, but it's there! You either like it or you don't like it!

CoC: How did covering "The Trooper" for the first Iron Maiden tribute (and the best one of the two, in my opinion) come about?

JL: At the time, this guy Raul was running Dwell Records and a friend of mine informed me that he was doing a tribute to Iron Maiden. So, immediately I contacted him and made a deal with him. He then sent me a contract and a budget to record the song. We had a very small budget to record "The Trooper". It could have been much better if we had more money to record with, but overall we're happy with what it came out to be considering how much money we had to work with.

CoC: Osmose will, I think I remember reading, also be putting out a disc of Vital Remains covers, called _Horrors of Hell_, about the same time _Dawn of the Apocalypse_ hits the streets in October, featuring some very cool VR interpretations of bands like Mercyful Fate and Judas Priest. Is this right, Joe?

JL: We plan on releasing _Horrors of Hell_ as a self-financed release after the millennium. Osmose will not release this. Osmose will help distribute the CD, but we will have all the rights to its release. We decided it would be a great idea to compile all the cover songs we've recorded throughout the years and put them on one CD. It will be something for our fans to enjoy as another addition to their Vital Remains collection!

CoC: Please give some detail to the CoC readers concerning the new album, _Dawn of the Apocalypse_.

JL: _Dawn of the Apocalypse_ is the best Vital Remains work to date. It tops _Forever Underground_. It's fast, it's brutal, it's definitely going to separate us from the trendy metal being released today. I really can't say too much yet. You'll just have to wait until it's released on October 30th in the USA and buy it! You won't be disappointed, I promise!

CoC: Anything special on the horizon for touring _Dawn of the Apocalypse_? What's the situation concerning the tour with Krisiun and Usurper?

JL: Tour plans are now under way. I can't really disclose any information at this time, but I assure you, we will tour very soon. The Krisiun/Usurper tour fell through the cracks. It was supposed to happen, but, unfortunately, there were too many problems involved and we decided not to go through with the tour.

CoC: Speaking of the touring topic again, if it were solely up to you, who would you pick to go on the road with, either supporting or headlining?

JL: I always wanted to tour as support for Morbid Angel. I think the best tour package would be Morbid Angel, Vital Remains, Krisiun and Angel Corpse. That would be the best fucking tour!

CoC: Can you give me a couple of new "up-and-comers" in the industry that you are currently impressed by? Any black metal that has your ear?

JL: The only band that I'm really impressed by nowadays is Krisiun. These guys are fucking brutal. I hope that I can tour with them soon. I really haven't discovered anything interesting lately. I really like the newest Immortal CD, though. There's also a band called Burning Inside from Florida. Look out for their new CD, coming out soon! It kills!

CoC: Once again, I thank you very much for this interview and I would invite you to end this Q&A in any fashion you see fit. Thanks for your time, Joe.

JL: Thank you very much for your interest and look out for our new CD out on October 30th, 1999: _Dawn of the Apocalypse_!

(article submitted 12/9/1999)


ALBUMS
5/1/2007 J Smit 7 Vital Remains - Icons of Evil
5/27/2003 J Smit 9 Vital Remains - Dechristianize
1/15/2000 A McKay 10 Vital Remains - Dawn of the Apocalypse
5/13/1997 S Hoeltzel 8 Vital Remains - Forever Underground
GIGS
8/12/2000 P Schwarz Vader / Vital Remains / Fleshcrawl / Rebaelliun Invadering From Across the Seas
10/16/1997 P Schwarz Malevolent Creation / Vital Remains / Infernal Majesty / Vader Something Old, Something New, and All Things Death Metal
9/14/1997 S Hoeltzel Vital Remains / Incantation / Ember Vital Remains - Unplugged
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