Interview: Malignant Altar (2020) / From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Malignant Altar

It doesn’t take much effort to remember titles like Retribution Of Jealous Gods and Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity, which is the title of your upcoming album. Malignant Altar is also a very distinct name for a death metal band, regardless of how relatively straight forward it may seem at first. Was coming up with all of them mentally demanding or something that happened on the spur of the moment?

Beau: I came across the name one night while reading the Stephen King short story Sometimes They Come Back. There’s a scene where the main character is meeting with demons at a malign altar. It just kind of jumped out at me and we ran with it. After Lucas Korte did the logo there was no turning back. Wilson came up with Retribution Of Jealous Gods title. He was throwing a few ideas around for demo titles and when he mentioned that one I told him we were done and that was the one we were using. It has a power to it that I really like. I came up with Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity one day at work while being bored and tossing words around trying to come up with song titles. I was trying to come up with something that maybe Lord Worm from Cryptopsy might have used for a song lyric and thus it was born.

Who are the jealous gods the demo title refers to, what are they jealous about and who is on the receiving end of their vegeance? Where does Demigods reduced to foul insects, the sentence printed on the back side of the demo cassette, fit into that whole concept?

Wilson: The jealous gods represent anyone or anything within a position of high power that is envious of a normal life free of being on the brink of ruin due to always being watched. Those born of a lower caste receive said vengeance and only suffer more if they attempt ascension. That sentence is a lyric from the third track of the demo and refers to the conflict between humans and the race of giants called the Nephilim as they are depicted in The Book Of Enoch.

Retribution Of Jealous Gods demo should be used as a textbook on how to write nearly 20 minutes of exclusively mid-paced death metal that never gets dull or monotonous, despite almost complete absence of particularly fast or slow sequences. Were those songs written that way deliberately? Considering that all three songs feature catchy, memorable leads that the riffs sort of revolve around, would it be fair to say that the predominant tempo in those songs was essentially determined by those leads?

Beau: When Wilson and I began discussing starting the band it was originally going to try and be some death grind type stuff in the vein of Napalm Death’s Mentally Murdered. As I sat down and started writing riffs I just felt everything I was writing was really stagnant since I had spent so much time in Insect Warfare writing primarily at faster tempos. One night I just texted him that maybe we should try and play slow. I had never really done that ever in my life and it was challenging. I enjoy challenges like that and being forced to write stuff outside my comfort zone so because of that the band has been a pretty rewarding experience.

As you’ve already mentioned, Lucas Korte did the artwork for Retribution Of Jealous Gods and the band logo, as well as the artwork of your debut album Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity, that will hopefully come out this summer. That said, when it comes to Retribution Of Jealous Gods cover, it is not easy to decipher what we are looking at. Would you care to explain what were the guidelines you gave Lucas for that image and also to provide a vague insight into what the front cover for Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity is going to look like?

Beau: The demo art actually was a pre-existing piece of art Lucas had already completed. I saw it and knew it was exactly what I wanted the tape cover to look like. I especially liked that the dimension would fit a tape cover well. The art has a kind of Lovecraft type vibe and that’s kind of the subject matter Wilson touches on in his lyrics often so I felt it fit. The cover of Realms is insane. It has so much detail and is basically some otherworldly Lovecraft type world. I don’t want to spoil it, but I am incredibly happy it’s going to be a part of one of my band’s albums.

Was the original Retribution Of Jealous Gods drawing the one with the white background featured on the cassette and CD editions or the one with the black background featured on the vinyl edition? Why did you even bother to make two different versions of the same image?

Beau: The original artwork is the white background. Scott at Maggot Stomp has a really good eye for graphical layout and he said for his pressings he wanted to try and do a black background. I really dig when different pressings have different cover themes. For instance, the zillion color cover variants of Master Of Reality by Black Sabbath. I guess that’s a collector nerd type thing but it does interest me.

Nephilim Burial features some very interesting bell sound effects at the very end of the track. Considering that you often quote Morbid Angel as your main influence, was the way they had used similar effects to create utterly sinister atmosphere in Hatework, the closing track on Domination, something that inspired you in that regard?

Beau: Morbid Angel is definitely a influence on that type of stuff. Trey’s weird ass keyboard interludes add a cool atmosphere to their records in my opinion. However, the biggest influence on the part you mentioned was from the long running satanic Houston death metal veterans Imprecation. Ruben often buried symphonic keyboards sparsely into the more slower moving riffs and it just sounds unlike any other band I’ve heard. I think using them sparsely is the key. I think it would be easy to go overboard with this and put too much into the record and take it into a cheesy direction. We have about three keyboard parts on the new record similar to the end of the demo and we definitely kept not overdoing it in mind.

It is quite strange that, even though Morbid Angel are considered the most influential death metal band in history, not many younger bands use their sound as the foundation to build their own identity upon. At least 80% of bands that emerged over the last ten years went after equally legendary, but decidedly more rudimentary sounding bands like Entombed, Autopsy or Incantation. Why do you think that was the case? Do you think that the skill level and imagination required to emulate something so intricate had something to do with it?

Beau: True. I think emulating something like the bands you mentioned is not too tricky. Incantation is a little more involved than something like Entombed. but just because it is not challenging does not mean it is not great. Look at Bolt Thrower. Pretty simple stuff musically, but completely devastating with great riff writing and arrangements. That shit is most important I think. Morbid Angel is next level type shit. Especially when you start entering the realms of Covenant when they introduced the seven string Ibanez guitars into their songwriting. There are just so many bizarre time shifts, harmonies, sound experimentations, etc. going on that it’s not something that anyone could just easily emulate without investing a lot of time and patience into figuring it out. I think Blood Incantation created Starspawn on a similar level as a Morbid Angel record. You can tell they invested a lot of time and care into the writing and recording of that album and it’s pretty unique because of that.

In one of your recent interviews you said that the plan was to introduce more variation and faster tempos on Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity. Does that mean that you feel you have nothing else or new to offer when it comes to songwriting style featured on Retribution Of Jealous Gods demo?

Beau: No, what we wanted to do with the album was take the demo and just expand upon it. We have become more comfortable with jamming with each other now and are able to more freely try things out that maybe before we weren’t strong enough to pull off. The songs on the record are pretty long so being able to take them into different areas definitely makes it more listenable in my opinion. I completely feel confident that anyone that enjoyed the demo will enjoy this album and appreciate how we expanded it beyond the demo. I think the demo sound is still there, just more complete.

Does Malignant Altar rely on sudden and unexpected torrents of creativity that by definition one can’t prepare for and doesn’t get to experience in regular timely intervals or do you prefer to hit the rehearsal room every day, trying to forcefully lit the spark of inspiration?

Beau: I’ve learned not to rush things. I’ve been writing guitar riffs long enough now that I just kind of know when it’s time to pick the guitar up and go. At this point I rarely just sit around and play guitar. That doesn’t mean I’m not working on things in my head, but physically I don’t need the instrument in front of me to write at this point. A lot of times I’ll just be watching TV and something will click and I’ll know it’s time that I should probably get the guitar out and figure out the melody in my head so it’s concrete. I feel that if you are forcing practice, song writing, or anything in life, then it’s not real. If it’s not real then why are you doing it?

What are some of your musical influences outside the landscape of extreme metal? What are some of the records an average Malignant Altar fan, if there’s even such a thing, would be surprised to hear you own and revere?

Wilson: All of us have varied tastes and I’m all over the place depending the day, but progressive rock, dark ambient, folk, and ’90s east coast hip-hop are the go to whenever I’m not in a metal mood. Some all time favorites would be Midnight Rodeo by Bohren And Der Club Of Gore, The Burden Of Hope by Grails, Zeit by Tangerine Dream, Kensington Blues by Jack Rose and Madvillainy by Madvillain.

Are those influences reflected in your sound in any way, shape or form? Would you be able to trace any sonic features that could lead you to some of those bands and artists you’ve just mentioned?

Wilson: I’d say music-wise we strictly keep it in the death metal arena, and lyrically I’m more influenced by what I read. Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft, Arthur Machen and Alan Moore have been warping my brain for years.

The most important records in the history of music were written by very young men, while their bands were still very early in their careers. As years went by, some of those bands that refused to give up might have gotten tighter, more professional sounding, but the truth is that no enhanced production values could ever compensate for the lost enthusiasm and the burning passion that just weren’t there anymore. That being said, what do you think is that thing that makes youth and creativity get along so well, and why is it virtually impossible to maintain the same high level of hunger and enthusiasm in the long run? How come that men becoming older and wiser so seldom translates into the increased quality of their music?

Beau: I’ve talked a few times with friends about how I currently just don’t have that aggressive drive like I did in my ’20s. In my ’20s all I gave a fuck about was waking up, slugging through work, and then focusing all my time after that into making my band happen. I’d go on tours and risk not having employment when coming back. I’d sleep on floors. I’d eat ramen noodle packets everyday of the week because the only jobs I could land between tours didn’t pay shit. But the band is all that mattered and I was willing to suffer through anything to make that happen. When you are young like that you are made of steel. Your body can just take more abuse. I’m approaching 40 now and even though music is and will always be the most driving thing in my life, I just don’t have the desire to take those risks anymore. I need a solid job. I need insurance. My back can’t take laying twisted around a shitty van bench seat 14 days in a row for stretches on end. Maybe if we had a fancy tour bus it would be doable but I’ve always just played in grind core and death metal bands where that’s just not an option. So all that being said, I think people in their youth tend to make their best records because they want it more. They eat, live and breathe their bands. There isn’t a moment of my life or day that I’m not thinking about music. I feel bad for my employers because I’m just jamming out in my head while I’m working, but I’m not the aggressive ambitious person I was in my ’20s. Thats just the way it is.

 

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