Usurper - Interview
One of the finest bands the American death/thrash metal scene has ever spawned, Usurper’s latest opus "Necronemesis" saw the band reach a wider audience than ever before, and they even had King Diamond come to the studio to do some vocal tracks for them. Chanting their haunting and mysterious lyrics over tight-as-hell and brutal riffs and precise double bass drumming, it’s no surprise that the legions of Usurper fans have been growing bigger and bigger in number lately, especially since their two latest tours with the immensely popular Cradle of Filth. The mastermind behind the band, Rick ‘Scythe’, agreed to answer a few questions, and he had some trouble himself finding a suitable style of metal to label the band.
We always struggled with this. We've been labeled everything: thrash, retro, black metal, death metal, etc... For lack of a better term we always called it DARK HEAVY METAL.
How long was "Necronemesis" in the making? How did it all come together?
Basically it came together pretty quick. I usually do all the writting, but I always bounce ideas around everyone else. After we did the Cradle Of Filth 1999 tour we really got a feel of what worked well live and what didn't. I think all of us wanted a really powerful riff heavy album. Something that had a lot of face value impact. Of course (as with all Usurper releases) there is still dark twisted undertones and creepy melodic elements, but on "Necronemesis" we really wanted those elements to be more in the backround enhancing the music. We really wanted to focus on songs that would have a great impact live. The lyrics are just a natural evolution of the same vision we had from day one, just reaching into some other strange realms. So basically this album came together very quick.
What aspects of the music or songwriting did you change from the previous album - "Usurper II - Skeletal Season"? Any similarities? Differences?
"Skeletal Season" was a really dark, creepy album. The initial idea with that was to make this really weird album; record everything anolog and add lots of vocal layers, guitar layers, feedback layers... basically just do something a bit more strange than we ever did. Unfortunatly some of the original vision was lost because of our drummer situation (Apocalyptic Warlord left in 1996 when most of the songs were written). So by the time we found a suitable replacement the initial vibe was kind of mixed up and tainted. However, I really love some aspects of that record. I think the artwork and layout are INCREDIBLE! And the lyics and stories behind them, with the linar notes is something that I'm very pleased with, but some of those songs were hard to pull off live. So on "Necronemesis" I wanted to keep a lot of the same themes. I wanted the lyrics in the same vein (as "Skeletal Season") with all the explainations and stories. I wanted to retain some of the haunting aspects, yet do it in a much more precise way. We wanted to record all digital to really key in on the tightness of the guitar and double bass drumming. So I guess to sum it up I think "Necronemesis" works well live and "Skeletal" should be enjoyed on the headphones.
How did you get ahold of King Diamond? What was it like working with a metal legend like him?
When we were planning on recording "Necronemesis", we really wanted to try a different studio. We analized a lot of recordings and we always seemed to come back to Nomad Studios. I think Mercyful Fate 9 was the deciding factor. We loved the way everything was clear, but not sterile. We really liked the interplay of the instruments. You can hear all the individual instruments, yet they had a good "live" feel as a unit. It is one of those albums that sounds good on a thousand dollar stero or on a shitty boom box; and that is precisly what we wanted. So we schedualed our time, but when the dates got closer we got a call from the owner. He told us that KING was finishing up "House Of God" and needed a little more time. He said if we pushed back our time a few days KING would repay us by singing on our album. This blew my mind! We of course instantly agreed. I knew exactly where I wanted him to sing... the song "Necronemesis" deals with this haunted graveyard. It is written from a 3rd person perspective until the middle where "the phantom of the graveyard rises". That is exactly where I knew it would sound cool. So basically we got to witness KING mixing "House Of God". We were in awe! Here is this metal legend treating us with the utmost respect. He actually took a lot of time to record his vocal tracks, and actually listened to everything and helped tweak out the mix. Let's just say I still get chills when I hear it!
Are you satisfied with how the album turned out? Anything you’d change?
I am 100% satisfied with the album. I feel it is our strongest album musically and lyrically. I think the cover art is incredible and overall it is our most original sounding album to date. the only thing I would change is some of the typos and little bullshit like that.
A particular favorite track?
Of course 'Necronemesis'! Even without the obvious fact of King Diamonds bone chilling vocals, that song is like a mini epic. It has a lot of dynamics and melody, yet is still straight ahead tight, aggressive metal. To me that is our perfect song! I also like '1666AD' a lot. I think it is just a basic heavy song with cool Nostradamus lyrics.
How’s Necropolis treating you? Are you satisfied with the promotion and exposure?
What promotion? We've been on Necropolis for years, and we were there when they grew from a 2 man little label into Relapse Jr., we've seen it all with them, and they seen it all with us. Paul is a great guy, it just sucks that some people there are not supportive of Usurper at all. It sucks that you can't find our albums in ANY stores, it sucks that our European magazine expoure has been just about zero for "Necronemesis", and that they are really pushing this whole gore thing. I mean it used to be this cult label; but now if you don't have a toilet with gore dripping on the cover, you don't get pushed. Oh well, that's just me bitching, obviously the positives must outweigh the negatives or else we wouldn't be still signed with them... right?
Tell me more about the interesting lyrics on this album. I find them fascinating! How did you find out about all these legends and myths? Do you believe in any of them? Do you believe in super powers?
Let me just say that I believe 100% in ALL of the lyrics I write. I document everything very well, I read a lot of obscure books, and listen to Art Bell evry now and then. I am fuckin addicted to all things paranormal: UFO's, werewolves, sasquatchs, interdimmensional creatures, cryptozoological creatures, lost civilizations, men in black, time-travel, electromagnetic anomolies, mothman/winged weirdos, ghosts, shadow people, prophecies and on and on... I think it's because I find everyday life very boring; I just wonder about the bigger picture a lot. I don't consider myself evil at all, just curious about things outside the norm. I find these stories facinating. To me it is way more interesting than people who sing about politics or religion. Preaching sucks! Even if pople don't beleive in things I write about, they can view it as fantasy or science fiction and still get into it. I like to view each song almost like a little horror movie set to heavy metal music!
I understand you played with Cradle of Filth on a few U.S. festivals. What was it like? What do you think about their extensive use of keyboards and some people calling them ‘sell-outs’?
Yes Cradle Of Filth has helped Usurper tremendously over the years. They had us open for them in 1998 in NYC. Then in 1999 we did the little 7 date US/Canada tour with them which really gave us the chance to play in front of bigger audiences for the first time. Then in fall of 2000 we did the huge 30 date European tour with them. That was mind blowing! The smallest show on that tour was 600 people and the largest was nearly 3000! Basically the average was about 1000 people a night, and that was really amazing for us! So what can I say about them? I mean I don't see them as sell outs at all. They just happen to be doing something that strikes a chord with many many kids today. I honestly believe they would be doing exactly the same thing even if they were some small unknown band, they just happened to take off. We are basically the same age as them, we both formed around the same time as eachother, and believe me, we have just about the same metal influences as them. They just happened to go in one direction and we went in another, yet we meet somewhere in the middle. Their use of female vocals and keyboards suits their sound very well. I think the main reason they can pull that off is because they still have 100% metal backbone and aggressiveness to what they do, where most bands that have keyboards and female vocals get too wimpy and overly soft. Usurper will not add keyboards or female vocals to our songs ever! We just want to retain a classic metal sound. Any atmosphere or melody will always be done with accoustic guitars, feedback tones, and subtle vocal layers, but even this aspect of Usurper will always be in the backround to enhance the heaviness. For Usurper; we want every song to be headbangable and fistbangable on the surface with dark, haunting elements below the surface in certain places; as I said before, just to add dynamics and add to the heaviness!
How do you feel about extreme metal bands like Cradle if Filth becoming successful in the American mainstream market? Do you think metal is meant to stay underground?
Metal should have no limits. If you happen to "make it big" playing metal it's totally cool, as long as you don't sell your soul to do it. Look at Iron Maiden or Judas Priest; they were always arena bands, but they did it with a "no comprimise" attitude and with a lot of integrity. Of course with metal, that should never be the goal. The goal should just be playing music from the heart, with all the traditions of the metal pioneers, yet with your own original take on it. bands should NEVER back down from doing interviews in fanzines, or take an attitude like they are better than any of their fans. I hate bullshit ROCK STAR attitudes! I hate industry weasels! The underground is very special to us. We'll never turn our back on it. We're die-hard fans of metal, just like kids that go to shows. Just like people who run fanzines. Big magazines are great because the give bands maximum exposure, but to be honest, most people who write for big glossies are arrogant assholes who think THEY are rock-stars. They are more impressed with kissing ass and seeing their name in print, and using big flowery words than they are fans of metal. I think it's safe to say USURPER will ALWAYS remain underground!
What’s your opinion on the current death metal scene in the U.S. Are there any bands you’re particularly into?
To be honest, I don't think I bought a death metal record since like 1992 or something. I get to hear a lot of stuff, but I really don't pay too much attention. I'm not saying that to be an asshole, but let's face it, I write all the music for Usurper, I practice with the band 3-4 days a week, I spend a lot of time demo-ing songs on my 4 track... the last thing I want to do in my free time is add more ringing noise to my ears. When I listen to music I like a lot of classic metal and early thrash, or just like rock music like Journey or Ted Nugent. When it's Friday night and I'm at the practice spot with all the gang, I'll listen to whatever new black, death metal anyone brings out, but just as backround music. Just for curiosity. Not that there isn't some great new bands; actually there is some stuff like Krisiun, Nifelheim, ABSU, and Nocturnal Fear that really blow my mind!
What bands or albums would you consider your personal and professional inspirations? What did you grow up listening, what bands influenced the sound of Usurper?
Oh man. I know the list would be slightly different for each member, but here is some of my personal favorites. when I first started listening to heavy music I liked: Scorpions, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, early Def Leppard, Ted Nugent... years later I got into like: Iron Maiden and Dio, which lead into early thrash like Mercyful Fate, old Slayer, Possessed, Kreator, Sodom... I was always looking for the heaviest or most extreme bands. Then I got into stuff like DRI, early Voivod, Bathory, just stuff with neckbreaking speed and aggression. I was also discovering dark slow heavy music at the same time like: Samhain, St. Vitus, Celtic Frost... So I think early on I realised great aspects of bands who played with precision tightness, and with over-the-top violent extremities as well as bands who played with slow heaviness and a loose "feeling" approach. So obviously you can say any and all of these bands had some influence on the Usurper sound. How can it not? Any band you listen to over and over will have some affect on your sound wether you like it or not. I think now what I listen for more than anything is bands with dynamics. Mainly metal, but take a band like Goblin for example. That is a band who did many classic horror movie soundtracks, so obviously they had to add dynamics to fit their music with particular scenes. I think that is what many bands are missing in extreme metal. Sounds should explode into a peak. Things should build in a climax, fall and rise again. Albums should have peaks a valleys. So I think the old metal is in our veins yet sometimes other bands who aren't metal at all can also have an indirect influence... but the end result is always DARK HEAVY METAL!
Any particular band you’d wish to do a tour with?
I'd love the chance to do like an arena tour, just to do it, I think Iron Maiden would be the ultimate.
What festivals are you guys doing this year? Any plans for heading over to Europe?
We already did a big EUROPEAN tour for "Necronemesis" with Cradle Of Filth, so I think if we go back again for this album, we'd like to do a small underground headlining or co-headlining tour. Other than that we'd really like to do a big US tour.
What are the future plans for the mighty Usurper? Coming tours, releases we should know about?
Right now we have a few tour opportunities, but nothing definate, so we will just continue to write and rehearse for our next album. Look for a re-release of "Threshold Of The Usurper" with 4 bonus tracks later this year, and a new album by summer/fall 2002.
Any closing remarks?
Visit us at www.usurper-necrocult.com.
Lords Of The Permafrost
Visions From The Gods
Headbangers Against Disco Vol. 2
Headbangers Against Disco Vol. 2
Threshold Of The Usurper
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