Zealotry's debut album, "The Charnel Expanse" is currently available on bandcamp, and will be released on CD in the fall by Memento Mori Records. Give it a listen as you read the interview!
SFM: Zealotry has been around since 2005, but only released their first demo in 2009. Can you give us a bit of background on the early history of the band?
R. Temin: Well, the 2005 thing is a little bit of a misnomer. 2005 really refers to when the first little scraps of material that ended up being incorporated into Zealotry songs were composed. At that point I was just writing stuff for fun that was more like video game soundtracks, or something. I didn't decide to really turn it into a metal project until maybe '07 or '08, when I figured I should probably pick up a real instrument. I went for bass, but it turned out that unless you're Steve Harris or Joey DeMaio or someone like that, you're not going to make much headway starting a project off as a bassist. So I switched to guitar. But by that point several songs were already written in earnest, so I asked some of my online acquaintances to help out by recording the guitar parts while I got myself up to speed on that instrument, which led to Rino Manarin being the guitarist on the Radix Malorum demo. I don't really care much for that demo anymore for a number of reasons (the drum machine sounded miserable, the arrangements weren't very good, my vocals sat really poorly in the mix, etc) but at least it was a stepping stone.
I went back to the drawing board to try to find more of an identity for Zealotry and also learn from the mistakes I made with that demo. It took a couple of years until I had a collection of songs I was really happy with, so in late 2011 or early 2012 I enlisted Phil to help out on guitar for the Blighted/Decaying Echoes EP. I was really quite pleased with the way that one came out so I asked Phil to join up as a permanent member (which I'm extremely happy I did, because he's brought so much to this band with his lead work and really his understanding of music in general - he's really one of the best musicians in this genre). A couple more songs were written with his input, and by mid-2012 Jason had agreed to join on bass and we were ready to track The Charnel Expanse.
SFM: On June 13, you guys unleashed the debut record, “The Charnel Expanse”. How has the reception been so far?
RT: Really quite positive. It's been a pretty small sample size so far, but people seem really bullish on this thing. I won't say I'm surprised because I had great confidence in the material and wouldn't have bothered putting it on record otherwise, but you can obviously never be completely sure how people outside your little inner circle will respond to something you do. But yeah, the reviews have been strong and we got the attention of Memento Mori pretty much immediately (I think barely a few hours after we uploaded the thing) which was a really pleasant surprise, since they're a label with a great reputation in the underground. There are things we'd like to improve in the future, of course, but that sort of goes without saying.
SFM: Musically, I hear a lot of influence from bands like Immolation and Incantation. Can you talk a bit about what bands or albums inspired this record and how it all came together to create your unique sound?
RT: Well, speaking for myself, I'm the kind of guy who's pretty much influenced in one way or another by everything he hears, and that includes stuff I don't necessarily like. Anything that catches my attention as being novel or otherwise compelling, I sort of internalize the most interesting aspects of it and try to draw on them when I'm writing if they feel appropriate. But as for this record in particular, every song really had its own set of inspirations. "Dysgenicists" is basically a tribute to the east coast North American death metal of the early 90s, so you can hear Atheist, Suffocation, Monstrosity, early Gorguts, Brutality, etc. "The Charnel Expanse" has a main riff that draws from Ved Buens Ende and then when it kicks into high gear, it's all Immolation, Ripping Corpse and early Morbid Angel. "Blighted" has a blasting section that's Demilich/Timeghoul inspired. "Avatars" is really pretty much written like something from Fates Warning's Awaken the Guardian album, but in a death metal way. "The Unmaking" is essentially equal parts Emperor, early At the Gates and Ulcerate. Then the instrumental "Codex Mysterium" was written to resemble less a death metal song than something from the avant-prog genre, like Univers Zero or Shub-Niggurath.
Of course there are the handful of influences that pervade the entire thing - Immolation (as you said), Gorguts, The Chasm, Adramelech, Voivod, Anata, Iniquity, etc. But we try not to constrain ourselves to that. Phil's leads, in fact, are partly inspired by this Quebecois composer named Michel Cusson, who arranged a lot of stuff for saxophone and other instruments, so there's a lot of non-metal concepts being included as well. The three of us (and Lille, as a matter of fact) agree that you can't advance a genre if you're always looking to the same dozen (or however many) bands for ideas. It's great to remember the giants on whose shoulders we stand, of course, and it's important to keep that core death metal aesthetic in mind at all times, but our goal is to really take those central elements to places they haven't been before and we won't be satisfied until we're accomplishing it with every single song.
SFM: The drums on “The Charnel Expanse” were played by Defeated Sanity’s Lille Gruber. How did this collaboration come about?
RT: We actually originally had Conny Pettersson of Anata signed on to do the drum sessions but he had to back out because of some family and scheduling concerns. Lille and I had been corresponding over facebook for a year or two and we'd met a couple of times when DS came here on their last two U.S. tours. I didn't intend to ask him initially after Conny dropped out because I, to be honest, wasn't sure he'd be a good fit (his ability wasn't to be questioned, but he'd always played in bands that were very different from ours). But we quickly ran out of other options and turned to him with no real expectations that he'd be willing to do it. But he agreed and... really, the work he did was just incredible, even if you don't take circumstances into account. He had barely 2 weeks to acclimate himself with the material before the studio date, but he not only mastered it but also incorporated ideas that were so vastly superior to the parts I'd sequenced when we were demoing out these songs. I really can't say enough good things about him. Just a total professional and has a better understanding of music than pretty much anyone I've ever met, and I think a lot of that is credited to his father Wolfgang (RIP). Defeated Sanity nominally exists in a genre that doesn't get a lot of respect, even in metal circles, because it's so harsh and animalistic, but talking to Lille really gave me a lot of insight into it that I wouldn't have had otherwise. And if nothing else, Passages Into Deformity is an album that anyone skeptical of brutal death metal should listen to because perhaps it'll grant them some of that same insight.
SFM: The brilliant cover art was created by Turkka Rantanen. What made you decide to choose him as the artist for this record?
RT: It was a strategic choice first and foremost. We wanted to get someone who had name recognition within the dm world (for his work with Demilich, Adramelech, Depravity, Demigod, etc.) but couldn't afford a guy like Dan Seagrave, for instance. We also felt that with the concept we had in mind, stylistically Turkka was a natural fit. He really dug the ideas which I presented to him and I think gave the cover a vibe that was both surrealistic and used classic death metal imagery. He's also a really good guy - very easy to talk to and bounce ideas off, and really easy to work with.
SFM: There’s a lot of mystique around the lyrics and imagery on “The Charnel Expanse”. How would you describe what the lyrics are about?
RT: "Mystique", huh? Not the term I'd have used, but I'll roll with it. :)
I really wanted to steer clear of any sort of Satanic/occult/gore-oriented death metal cliches. At the same time, it's still a death metal album, and death metal harnesses negativity for its creative energy, so I still wanted to have that dark and destructive vibe present. In general, most of the lyrics are about oppression, failure and extinction in one way or another. "Avatars" is basically about the collapse of society and the doom of mankind as a species. "Dysgenicists" was inspired primarily by the movie Idiocracy - it's basically about how we're being dumbed down and our lives are being trivialized (I know that in places those lyrics might seem like they venture into conspiracy theory, but I'm not into that at all, it's really just an observation on how mankind is losing its intellectual and creative prowess). "Blighted" is about how impermanent dominance is and how history is just one long pattern of one group conquering another and then themselves being conquered - unending cycle of conquest and upheaval, like the lyrics say. "Decaying Echoes" was inspired by a section of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, in fact some of the lyrics are lifted directly from it - I think it's pretty self-explanatory. The title track was inspired by The Road by Cormac McCarthy (a book I think everyone should read). "Apex Predator" was originally meant to be about Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, with all the gore included and everything, but later I decided to make it more about an archetypal plutocrat who views himself as invincible but ultimately gets brought down by his own hubris. And "The Unmaking", in case people don't recognize the samples, is about the Reapers from the Mass Effect games, which I know is nerdy as hell, but they're just such perfect villains to write a death metal song about - a race of sentient biomechanical starships that comes around every 50,000 years to wipe out all galactic civilization, and has been doing this for at least a billion years. What's more death metal than that? It's like Lovecraft meets The Terminator, and we've all heard songs written about those two - shitloads of them.
RT: Well, the first order of business is finding a permanent drummer and playing out at least a few times. We've been looking, but with drummers, you need them to be three things: available, capable and interested. The ones we've run into so far have typically been 1 or 2 out of those three. It's been frustrating as hell, but we're not gonna give up. As for future material, there are already 5 songs written for the next album and we hope to start doing pre-prods on them in the next couple of months. The creative process is more collaborative this time around (as I mentioned, Phil and Jason joined up quite late in the process for TCE), and the music reflects that. It's going to be more advanced than anything you hear on the first record and more unique. I've been describing it as "Danny Elfman + Univers Zero +Erosion-era Gorguts" sort of as a joke, but the truth isn't far off.
RT: Thank you for all the support and all the kind words! We're going to repay them with bigger and better things in the future.
We're not satisfied putting out merely a 'good' album. The whole purpose of Zealotry is to put out the most next-level death metal we possibly can, so we're not going to sit back and just absorb the positive response from TCE. We'll work our asses off to build something that'll dwarf it.
Thanks to vocalist and guitarist R. Temin for the interview! Check out Zealotry's record on bandcamp and be sure to like the band on Facebook!