Into the Pit of Pain!
CoC chats with Duncan Mitchell from Descent
by: Paul Schwarz
Descent could be called London's best ever answer to Machine Head -- or as some might put it, "The Machine Head Problem". Voted amongst Terrorizer magazine's best unsigned bands in both 2001 and 2002, their combination of thrash metal's rhythmic chops, death metal's downtuned heaviness and the catchy inflections of Pantera's 'power groove' school has assured a steady rise to widespread local notoriety -- backed as it was by increasingly impressive live performances. Though formed in 1998, Descent were relatively unknown until 2000: the year they recorded the impressively-acclaimed, Dave Chang-produced _Focus, Purity, Darkness_ demo. A three-piece at the time, Descent stepped up their touring schedule in the demo's wake. To date, they have supported Shadows Fall, The Crown, Decapitated, Darkane and many more 'name' bands, as well as clocking up many 'underground' gigs besides. One of their final significant 'acts' as a three-piece came when they contributed a moshing (death) metal mad version of Testament's "Into The Pit" to Blackfish's killer _Thrash Or Be Thrashed_ tribute compilation. But now, with the addition of guitarist Tim Spurr, they've substantially broadened their horizons. As a four-piece who have come to fully embrace Swedish death metal leanings -- and even a progressive turn or two -- on their current four-tracker, Descent are surely a more promise-heavy prospect than ever they were before. I chatted with bassist Duncan Mitchell back in April -- via Internet messaging -- to find out how things were going, focusing mainly on Descent's recent activities, current release and future prospects.

CoC: About the new four-tracker: does that have title at all?

Duncan Mitchell: No, it's not meant for general release, to be honest. The demo's main purpose is to try and drum up some record company interest -- though people can download it from the website should they wish.

CoC: Let's talk about the demo. The thing that struck me, first off, was how different it comes across, compared to the Dave Chang-produced _Focus, Purity, Darkness_. I don't mean the sound though: it's mainly the spirit, I suppose, in which the new demo has been done. Without in the slightest wanting to insult your songwriting on either release, the new demo does not, in contrast to _FPD_, seem like the kind of release Metal Hammer would generally latch onto. Unless their tastes have really changed from "back in the day".

DM: Well, there has been a couple of years in-between the two demos, and a couple of line-up changes. _FPD_ was written as a three-piece. Then we got a second guitarist in, then we lost him and got Tim into the band. We have quite a diverse set of inspirations. Marc and Ross are big into power metal and the whole Swedish sound; I'm into my brutal death metal, grind and doom; and Tim is mainly into the classic Florida sound of Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Suffocation... As for not appealing to certain magazines' tastes, I see a bit of a shift in public taste at the moment with bands like Shadows Fall and God Forbid all doing well and sound-wise we're not a million miles away from them.

CoC: Did you feel like you wanted to take a darker, more melodically involved and less mosh-orientated approach to death/thrash -- the somewhat nebulous genre you broadly fit into -- with this demo? Does that direction -- in the context of what you said about the demo being mainly for getting a record deal -- reflect the kind of record companies whose attentions you are hoping to attract?

DM: There wasn't really a conscious effort to write in a certain style. We all just bring our individual riffs and parts to practice, jam on them and form songs from there. A big difference now compared to FPD is that we have all become far more accomplished musically since then and like I mentioned we have added a second guitar which opens up whole new avenues. As for record companies, we've had a few offers but nothing concrete. There are certain labels I'd personally love to sign to, but as long as we can find a good deal from a honest label, I'll be happy. I think the main problem we have encountered so far is that people can't really pigeonhole us as a particular style (which I think is a good thing) but I suppose it does make us that bit more awkward to market.

CoC: I dig what you're saying: they can hear and sometimes perceive the roots of some core aspects of Descent, but A) that doesn't cover the full gamut of what's there, and B) (as you've proved with this latest demo) there's no real way of telling where the band will go next.

DM: Yeah... to be honest, I don't think we know ourselves. <laughs>

CoC: Obviously there are limits -- your description of yourselves very broadly as a metal band seems to cover the range well: there's a lot of possibility in that configuration.

DM: The songs we are writing at the moment are so different from one to another, some of them are getting stupidly technical and we're all pushing ourselves to the limit musically. But then we have other new songs where we just hold back, look for a groove and try to do something a bit more catchy. I guess that's our old school Pantera, Metallica, Fear Factory influences coming through. We just tend to go with the death/thrash tag. I think it pretty much sums us up. We have hardcore, power metal and even nu elements to our songs, but at the end of the day you have to try and put yourself under a vague umbrella.

CoC: And without wanting to put words in your mouth, I'd postulate that what's "nu" about Descent came from death and thrash in the first place -- too many serpents with too many tails!

DM: Exactly... people think that Korn and Slipknot were the first bands to down tune to B and crank out a some great grooves, but as we know Carcass, Bolt Thrower and tons of others were doing it all fifteen years ago...

CoC: In the context of what you were saying about songs: have you been playing live much recently, and if you have, what have been the reactions to new songs (from the demo or after), and which songs have you been airing?

DM: We've been doing a few low-key gigs. Tim is still relatively new to playing live with us. He's only up to his sixth or seventh gig, but we played with Dimension Zero recently and that was awesome. Of the new songs, "Dust of the Fallen" always goes down well. I think that one sums us up best. It's technical, it has some great grooves and its heavy as fuck. "World of Dreams" always goes down well, as well. We always joke that that song will be our hit single, as it's us at our most melodic and catchy.

CoC: Any specific support/touring plans for the next four-to-six months?

DM: Well, we've just sent out 40+ press packs to labels and venues so it depends what sort of offers we get back, to be honest. We do have a couple of things lined up for the near future, but nothing is 100% confirmed. It's best if people keep an eye on the website for all the latest info.


(article submitted 12/7/2004)

7/29/2004 J Smit Death Angel / Descent Death Never Sounded This Good
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