Ascending to Chaos
At the steel doors of Glasgow's Cathouse, around six in the evening. Finding myself having to half-shout "I am here to interview DISMEMBER!" at a door on a street in a city previously unknown to me does make me feel awkward. That I am of course asked the classic follow up "Which publication are you with?" and proclaim to street and door alike "CHRONICLES OF CHAOS!" does naturally not settle me. And once stairs had been ascended and band found crammed into a low ceilinged room -- tables covered in tour-rider-requested fluids and multiple copies of a German compendium-of-metal mag, prepared in readiness for the upcoming Summer festival season, littering what tabletop space remained --, the first thought from Matti Karki upon establishing who I was and why I was there was: "Let's go outside."
Having already found my dictaphone's batteries dead and now standing in a bare fire-exit corridor with a notepad clumsily trying to account for my lack of recording device, it suddenly dawns on me how laid back and fan-like the bearded singer is; despite my situation, I am quite at ease. Thus, Matti's answer when I ask him why he and his bandmates still struggle on with Dismember, nearly ten years down the line from their classic _Like an Everflowing Stream_ debut, is unsurprising.
"We just do it for fun, really. We enjoy doing the band, so that's what we do." It's hardly an unusual sentiment, but rewinding Dismember to the beginning of the nineties we see Matti and his bandmates on their album's back cover drenched in pig blood; we see a band with a strongly defined image. Dismember are furthermore a band very much from a scene, the Sweden's Stockholm "death metal" scene.
"We don't give a fuck about the scene now -- we have families and jobs and all that; we don't have time to anymore." Matti's response today will no doubt prompt the metal die-hards among you to cry sell-out, poseur or rock-star, but why -should- Dismember take interest in something which no longer interests them? The scene Dismember emerged from no longer exists and even the -extreme- music they care about seems to lie mostly in the past.Acts of the Repeatable
"Autopsy rules!" followed by the lifting of a nondescript hooded sweatshirt to reveal a _Severed Survival_ original cover t-shirt (which inspired hideous jealousy in me). That was the impassioned reaction of Richard Cabeza (Dismember's former full-time bass player) -- stirred from his concentrated joint-rolling on only this one occasion -- to Matti and I's conversation later on in the original low-ceilinged band room, then vacated by the other members. Cabeza is filling in for the band on this tour but will not commit to Dismember anymore. All are still friends, and Matti respects Richard's decision fully. Conversation had moved onto the subject of Autopsy, a band close to Dismember's collective heart, but closer yet to Matti's: he positively worships them and has in past interviews proclaimed _Mental Funeral_ as the best death metal album ever. We were just previously salivating together over the prospect of the Ravenouz album due out in September. Ravenouz is a new death metal project featuring Brutal Truth / Nuclear Assault / SOD bassist Dan Lilker, Killjoy from Necrophagia (who also features in trans-Atlantic black metal supergroup Eibon) and Autopsy's Chris Reifert.
"Chris Reifert is the Midas of death metal: everything he touches turns to gold!", exclaims Matti -- and deriders to this claim should remember that Reifert is -not- involved in Abscess --, prompting an espousal of the merits of Autopsy.
"Autopsy's structures, the riffs, are simple -- they're easy to play. But the -feel- is what makes it so amazing." And we should not forget that this feel was born of a band playing in a garage. The relevance is to the Stockholm scene from which Dismember comes. Back in the day Dismember were among those such as Nihilst (later to split into Entombed and Unleashed), Corpse (later to be known as Grave) and others doing the local rounds together.
"The inspiration for the Stockholm scene was all this aggressive, noisy stuff like Repulsion", Matti explains. "That's why it always has this raw dirty sound." Matti and I in the process of juxtaposing Stockholm's late-eighties scene with another certain Swedish metal scene of the nineties: "I don't like the Gothenburg stuff, really, they are very power metal influenced. It is very technical; there's like a million notes -- Magnus [Sahlgren, guitarist] is into all that technical shit like Yngwie Malmsteen too --, but there isn't much feel, in my opinion. We were always about -feel- more than technicality, like Autopsy and Repulsion."
In fact, Matti's so obsessive over Autopsy that he has a band to effectively pay tribute to them. Murder Squad is the entity through which he began this, one black sabbath. "Murder Squad began because me and Uffe from Entombed and a few other guys used to jam together on a Sunday and try to get over hangovers. We needed to play something easy so we ripped off Autopsy. We would just smoke pot, drink and jam out these cool riffs."
It may sound like something unsuitable for public consumption, but Matti and his cohorts, after a few years with Murder Squad on hold for various reasons, decided to take the first-album plunge. "The record has a one-day production, it was on a low budget, we did it fast. We think it might be too good a sound, though."
A one day production with "too good" a sound? Does it seem like an oxymoron? Well, you obviously don't share Matti Karki's tastes in music.Reeking Over the Coals of Memory
Matti and I sit with band manager Stuart Ness and talk music. We all agree that Mortician are rubbish, and bemoan why a label with such a consistent roster as Relapse -- who are also strongly touted to put out Murder Squad -- keep this rather low quality band on their books. I suggest that they may be Relapse's biggest seller, judging on past Milwaukee MetalFest crowd draws.
Next up is Carcass. I, predictably, sing the praises of _Necroticism -- Descanting the Insalubrious_; Stuart, straight out of leftfield, opts for first and last as his only interests. Matti bemoans the clean, boring sound of _Symphonies of Sickness_ before proclaiming that... "_Reek of Putrefaction_ is the ultimate brutal, extreme music album." Which was not a phrase I thought I'd -ever- hear. "It has all kinds of noises and blasts. Still, today, no band has topped it. I don't like any Carcass album but the first one. And the rough mix makes it even better." Yes, unbelievably, the muddy mess of a sound that is _RoP_ was re-mixed from an original recording deemed by the band to be worse, but not by Matti. Matti had, and may resurrect, a similar project to Murder Squad by the name of General Surgery, which pays homage to _RoP_ like Murder Squad does _Mental Funeral_: by unashamedly ripping it off in style.Shadows of the Past
So now it should make sense how a one-day production is too good for the sickening tastes of Mr. Karki. He is nonetheless excited to finally be putting out something tangible from Murder Squad. Matti is happy with Dismember's new album _Hate Campaign_ -- as he is happy with all of Dismember's albums apart from _Massive Killing Capacity_ ("I like some songs on it but I don't like the production. I can't listen to that album all the way through without at some point going "What the fuck was I thinking there!?"") -- but he is more excited to be putting out the Murder Squad album. The feeling for him is more like when Dismember originally made their now-classic _Like an Everflowing Stream_ album. But did it occur to Matti at the time that Dismember were making history, making a record that would someday be spoken of as a classic?
"No, we were just excited to make a first album. Carnage [see review of the re-issued _Dark Recollections_ in the classic reviews section] was rushed and collapsed before the album even came out; Mike left to join Carcass only a few weeks after we finished recording the album. After that, Fred [Estby, drums] reformed Dismember and he asked me to sing. Of course I accepted."
"When we got the contract from Nuclear Blast we were just excited to be able to be signed. Our relationship with Nuclear Blast is pretty non-intervention; they don't have any creative control, we just get money from them to do our thing." A classic example of this comes up as we discuss the video for "Dreaming in Red". I tell Matti that it's probably my favourite music video ever.
"The shots of the band were done in one day", he reminisces, "then this freak who was doing it filmed all the other shit on his own, without us, without even consulting us. Nuclear Blast had nothing to do with it, they just gave us -some- money for it."
Unfortunately I didn't ask Matti whether Nuclear Blast were the impetus behind Dismember's blood-splattered appearance on _Like an Everflowing Stream_'s back cover. However, I did ask him whether the whole mess the band got into over that first album, which centred around the track "Skin Her Alive" for which the band went to court in the UK on charges of obscenity, was an intentional ploy to get publicity; did they know it would cause such a ruckus?
"No, we didn't originally set out to cause offence. "Skin Her Alive" was about what happened in the house next door to me. I retold it from the killer's point of view, though. Once customs seized it they weren't too happy. We went to court for that and so on the next album, _Indecent and Obscene_, I wrote "Eviscerated (Bitch)" to get up their noses, to piss them off. But by then no-one really cared about all this stuff and so no-one noticed."
Pulling cheap death or black metal shock tactics up short is fine by me, but when "no-one really cares" starts to apply to a band's output, that's when there's a problem. Dismember are self-confessed non-innovators, but they've always had people who cared, who noticed what they were doing. "It's not our intention to innovate; we just to do Dismember but keep things fresh." One of the methods for keeping things fresh over the last three years has been the influx of Iron Maiden-esque melodic stylings, juxtaposed with the head down and brutal Swedish death metal attack which Dismember have never abandoned.
"We grew up with Iron Maiden, they were an influence from early on, so that comes out in some songs. But we put a brutal slant on it. We contrast the brutal with the melody."Beyond Good and Evil
Matti's explanation of what Dismember are doing is plain and unpretentious, and the latter term is also applicable to the band on a musical and lyrical level. To provide some prompting, I brought along some books I figured Matti probably would have seen or even read, being a death metaller of the early nineties. The books were "Dagon and other Macabre Tales" (a collected volume of H.P. Lovecraft's stories), "Beyond Good and Evil" by late-eighteenth-century German philosopher Freidrich Nietzche and the infamous "Necronomicon", which is believed by most to be faked but claimed by some to be the actual final testament of one Abdul Alhazred who, writing in Damascus in the eighth century, espoused the magickal (sic) secrets of ancient Sumeria. All three are classic nineties death metaller fare. "Necronomicon"'s introduction unwittingly lists a plethora of extreme metal acts, song and album titles, many of which also unsurprisingly appear in Lovecraft. Neitzche, on the other hand, is a philosopher in the academic sense, recognised as worthy of study by universities and schools. He was chosen on impulse because, as any of you with _Hate Campaign_ will know, the title to this book of his was stolen by Matti for a song title. "And that's all I got from Nietzche", claims the singer. "I found his ideas interesting, but I didn't think he was right. You should talk to Magnus about this, he has a degree in Philosophy." The singer didn't believe that the "Necronomicon" was based on truth either. Matti's reaction to Lovecraft was simply to repeat the author's name as if regarding an old friend not visited for aeons, but who deserved at least one last visit before the end.
All this literary dabbling happened as we stood in the fire corridor and just as I am about to put the books back in my bag, the rest of the band leave the practice room to soundcheck. Matti brings the Neitzche text to Sahlgren's attention, who regards it much as Matti did Lovecraft before. Sahlgren and I resolve to talk philosophy later, but it doesn't come together on this evening -- maybe next time Dismember visit the UK.
However, though the gig that evening at the Cathouse turned out to be a roaring success [see Chaotic Concerts], I wouldn't hold your breath for such an event. This was Dismember's first show in the UK for nearly eight years, and touring has not recently produced the most positive of experiences for them. The band's last proper tour "organised" (that's definitely a broad use of the word) by the Metalysee agency turned out to be a deliberate rip-off and a hideously bad experience all round: it contributed to Richard's original departure. All the same though, Dismember soldier on. "We are playing for our fans, for them to see us live", Matti plainly states. "Maybe we'll also gain a few more fans by playing live."
Matti's final offhand remark is eerily played out as I am in the process of leaving the Cathouse after Dismember finish their set...
"I don't believe it! They don't have any more CDs!" The comment is from a fellow student at my university who I quizzed before the gig as to what he figured to the new Dismember material and got the response that he'd never heard the band: he was here on a friends recommendation. I gave him the name of a good mail order business he could contact for a copy of _Hate Campaign_. "Why aren't these guys bigger? I mean, why aren't they bigger -in the metal scene-?!", he incredulously adds.
There are a ton of reasons I could posit to answer his question, but in the end, and based on my own affectation for the band, I sometimes find it hard to believe that Dismember aren't at least a -bit- more popular. Time will tell, and since Matti says that Dismember will keep doing their thing as long as they are able, time may be on our side.