Drawn And Quartered
Hail Infernal Darkness is still regarded by many as the peak moment in the band’s career, even though one could argue that you had more than one of those moments over the last twenty years. Would you subscribe to that notion and, if so, would you count Congregation Pestilence among them?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: Hail Infernal Darkness is tough to beat. I’m certain we can create something as good or better. I’m not convinced that has happened yet, in my opinion. We were working non-stop around that time in various projects and recordings, back to back. I have been in that mode again, recently. Congregation Pestilence is a step towards that. It is a really good record, similar to how Return Of The Black Death was a really good record, but Hail Infernal Darkness is the masterpiece that followed.
If you were to delve deep into the specifics, what would you say are some of the features that make Congregation Pestilence different than your previous records?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: We had four new compositions that offered some unique opportunities to stretch a little and try new things in Drop A tuning, something we did on The One Who Lurks. We got great results with those songs. The other five are songs we’ve been performing live for years, they came out great. Overall, the record sounds consistent, despite these differences. Typically after the first record or two, you end up recording music that most likely hasn’t been performed live. It can be hit and miss with a piece of music like that. Sometimes a song was pretty good on the recording, but for whatever reason doesn’t really make it to a live set. This is a record I could conceivable see us perform live in its entirety. There aren’t any others I could imagine doing that with at this time.
There is something solemn and dramatic about the title Congregation Pestilence, that resonates like a formal, official proclamation declaring the ultimate end of days. The album’s artwork also oozes decadence. Did you use both to reflect on the situation humanity is currently experiencing?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: The song itself describes people going to church during the pandemic and spreading the virus to the flock. People ignoring facts to go play pretend with like-minded fools, only to end up killing themselves, loved ones, and other people in the community.
Would it be fair to say that your music is a means of expressing yourselves for the sake of pleasing yourselves and that you are Drawn And Quartered fans just like anyone else, capable of enjoying your music without overanalyzing it?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: Over the years I have worked very hard to establish the band musically. I thought Return Of The Black Death was a very strong offering that would be well regarded. I have attempted to present some different ideas and go outside of our comfort zone with the Drop A tuning songs on our last few releases. We are working on music for our next record, it is really classic sounding Drawn And Quartered material. After that I’m open to trying to achieve something that might show a different side of the band and what else we are capable of doing. I’m a fan of our band, but I’d like to see what else we can do, and still retain our sound. It has a lot to do with how I’ve been composing. It’s definitely to grow, so I will absolutely strive to grow. Every record should be different. The next record is going to be chock full of great riffs, classic death metal, not as experimental as the last two records.
Almost thirty years and eight albums into your career, with Herb and yourself presumably slowly pushing towards the wrong side of the fifties, where do you find the motivation and perseverance to keep grinding and outdoing yourselves?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: It is a lot easier to keep a band going and maintain some base level of physical ability, than try to recapture or re-start after a break. We don’t take breaks, we’ve always worked on something, whether it’s a side project or two, or developing music for a live set for Drawn And Quartered. We are doing exactly what we love to do. We don’t have to outdo ourselves. We can just do whatever we want to do. We don’t have commercial constraints, or pressure. That is a pure way to express art. Most people, including ourselves, would like to succeed or make money for what we do, but it doesn’t motivate or color our expression. We will do what we do, and if it becomes successful it is even sweeter. We aren’t setting out to fail miserably, and certainly feedback is taken into account to some extent. Of course we will continue to strive, develop, and evolve. There is no rush or need to do anything on any timeline but our own at this point.
Do you feel that each Drawn And Quartered record has been an exercise in growth and maturation, or do you think that you have actually skipped a bit with some of them? What is the band’s least memorable album in your opinion, and why?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: Each album is definitely an exercise in growth. There is a lot that can be learned on various levels. We learn how to create sounds through the engineering. We learn how to craft songs that capture the attention and compel further listening. After Hail Infernal Darkness we definitely side-stepped trying to top or compete with that record. Those first five records were done as a four-piece. Developing into a three-piece was a big step. Moving on after a band member leaves after more than ten years is a big step, chronicled on Feeding Hell’s Furnace and Proliferation Of Disease. The mixing step of Merciless Hammer Of Lucifer didn’t go as well as it could have, due to some schedule issues, a deadline, and some studio monitors that were not the best. I’m happy with the record, but it might have been better. To Kill Is Human seems to be pretty well regarded, though I’m sure it would benefit from a better mix. There’s always going to be something you’d want to have done slightly differently. Not so much with Hail Infernal Darkness, that one is pretty amazing.
In terms of enthusiasm, dedication, urgency, and the overall hunger for making music, when you look at where you were back in the To Kill Is Human days, how would you compare that mindset to your current one?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: We are more productive and efficient with our time now. We have learned a lot of techniques and have faster ways to develop our music ideas, just really basic things. We spent a lot of time spinning our wheels in the beginning, figuring out how to play, write, and perform. We had years of that. We were younger with fewer complexities in our lives. We had more free time, not necessarily well spent. We are hungrier than ever now, to achieve new goals.
Have you ever noticed a correlation between your moods and the quality of your musical output? Do you write better music when you are content and in a good place mentally and emotionally, or do you need to be angry, frustrated, and out of balance so to say, in order to come up with something exceptional?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: My mood has not played a part in my writing that would be a hindrance. If you weren’t in the mood to practice, write, or play. Certainly you are not going to feel like working all the time. But you show up, and do the work. Other times it is effortless, thanks to the work you put in when you were tired, busy, or stressed out. Certainly I use some elements of the music to express myself. There are definitely times when I feel more inspired to write and create than others. Sometimes you do force things a little, and may look back and see that you rushed this or that aspect of something. Since I record myself, it’s easy to re-evaluate something and redo parts or all of it, if needed. It isn’t that hard to start over when you aren’t under a deadline or on the clock with a studio. We do have deadlines sometimes, so that isn’t a bad thing. It is very common to get caught up trying to make the most perfect thing ever, that you get stuck and never actually finish anything. Quality over quantity. I get that, maybe I should be more discerning. But I prefer to be prolific, I feel like I grow exponentially that way, instead of stifling myself and overanalyzing everything. I don’t need to be in a particular mood, these states change a lot during the process of creation. Being in a good place mentally facilitates productivity for me, so I try to remain balanced.
Could you say something about your relationship with your instrument? As a guitar player that plays rhythm and lead sequences with almost equal proficiency, which is a skill that surely took years to master, has playing guitar in the meantime become a habit or a necessity, something your life wouldn’t be the same without? If Drawn And Quartered were to disband today, do you believe that your playing and practicing habits would stay the same?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: Playing, especially within a group, is a great way to channel aggression or frustration. A lot of stress is relieved by challenging yourself physically and mentally. The better technique you have, the more consistent you will be at it. I have worked very hard over the last few years to play, rehearse, and record as much as possible. Most of my free time is spent doing that right now. Over the years I have been involved with several bands including Winds Of Pestilence and Plague Bearer. Since 2017 Plague Bearer has reformed, performed at local shows and festivals, released two compilation CDs, and recently finished recording a full-length studio album. A couple years ago we headlined a show for a touring band called Draghkar. That band was looking for a lead guitar player, so I joined. We’ve recorded a promo, a full-length, and a song for a split 7”. Brandon, the person behind that band, has a record label called Nameless Grave. He has a band called Serpent Rider, and I also play lead and rhythm guitar for that. We have recorded a split CD coming out soon. Keeping busy and playing as much as possible is what keeps me able to play and inspires me to try new things and develop new ideas and techniques for playing, recording, and writing. I’d prefer to rehearse, write, or perform over practicing. I definitely have to practice. Lead sections, details of a song for live performances, new riffs that are tricky. Sometimes just some general sharpening of skills. At this point, I would certainly stay busy playing guitar in various ways. I would certainly have a band or two to rehearse and perform with. I’ve had a band I’ve been wanting to get started where I play bass guitar. Something doomy. I’m going to set a pedal board and mess around with some of my effects pedals and collaborate with some friends for fun. I have been insanely busy this year, but I am wrapping things up on a split CD for Drawn And Quartered for a release next year, I can spend some time on developing that idea. So five bands should be enough to keep me busy for a while.
Considering the quantity and quality of the band’s body of work, one could argue that you are one of the most underappreciated death metal bands ever. Would you subscribe to the notion that your music was never met with the level of recognition and appreciation it warranted?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: Timing is critical for success sometimes. In our case timing is good now. I’m perfectly happy with that. I’m working towards achieving new things, some of them I’d have hoped for years ago. I’m better equipped and established well enough to be able to keep doing this as long as I want. We have room to grow, and the best is yet to come. I think we will get the recognition we deserve when we earn it.
Looking back on your old logo and the front covers of your early albums, from To Kill Is Human to Merciless Hammer Of Lucifer, do you feel there was something naive about them execution-wise, that perhaps prevented those albums from getting better feedback from the more visually demanding death metal audience?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: Herb drew that logo himself. I was unsure about changing the logo, but I’m really happy with it. There were two or three made at the time around 2010. As the artwork improved, so did the music. We all grew together. When we started people only cared about black metal. Now we are called legends, but that is simply from not giving up. We still have work to do to really be legends.
Speaking of not being sure about changing the old logo, why did you feel the need to visually reinvent yourselves with Feeding Hell’s Furnace by introducing the new one?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: It was the idea of Dario, our drummer at the time. For a few years there, we weren’t doing many shows. I wasn’t doing any side bands. He didn’t want to tour, and I didn’t want to tour without him. I just went with the flow, and spent a lot of free time pursuing other interests. We gradually developed the music and recorded Feeding Hell’s Furnace. We had fulfilled all contractual obligations and wanted to start fresh. We were now a three-piece, and we self-financed the record so we own our masters and can re-issue things as we see fit. We chose the new logo and it looks a little more professional.
Going back to Hail Infernal Darkness again, it feels that its impact somewhat overshadowed the quality of its immediate successor Merciless Hammer Of Lucifer. Do you share the sentiment that the latter is perhaps slightly overlooked?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: I didn’t want to make the same record. There was a lot going on leading up to Hail Infernal Darkness, things you can’t replicate. The mix is much different, the approach to writing is more organic. We collaborated a lot in the rehearsal room putting together the structures. I didn’t want to have a million wah-wah, dive bomb, delay, and tapping solos all over the record again. That record is a cohesive piece of work that doesn’t compare to any other record. It is not the epic masterpiece that came before it. Nothing will probably top that, but generally we firmly believe that the best work is yet to come. Many artists feel that way.
What spurred the creative torrent that resulted in those four remarkable albums between 2003 and 2007? Is there perhaps a correlation between where you were musically with where you were in your private lives during that time?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: It started with a five song rehearsal promo in 2002, we recorded the four albums, some 7” tracks, a Plague Bearer EP, and a Winds Of Pestilence EP in 2008. We performed as Winds Of Pestilence from 2004 to 2008. We did some tours, festivals. I worked with three other bands during that time that didn’t pan out. I had been working on Plague Bearer again as far back as 1999, doing recordings in 2000 and 2001. The debut Drawn And Quartered record was recorded in 1998. In 1996 Drawn And Quartered started playing live and made a demo. Before that it was Plague Bearer from 1992 to 1994. So it is all about momentum. I had built up a lot of creative energy from 1996 to 2001 because we hadn’t created that many Drawn And Quartered songs. When Dario joined we found we could create very quickly and put together the label, the studio, engineer, and artist to facilitate the proliferation of recordings. Everyone was highly motivated, was able to dedicate the necessary time. We were becoming more efficient in our working habits, and we had someone to bankroll the operation. Having those things in place and the record deals we signed, we decided we would work quickly to satisfy those obligations. We had found a studio we felt comfortable working in, and we took advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to make records. We all wanted to do it and worked very hard to make it happen. It was a challenge. I had life and work evolutions along the way. It was nice to take a breather a few years later when I wasn’t doing as much. There was certainly stress and exhaustion involved. It was a lot of work. I spent a lot of time in rehearsal rooms and long weekends in recording studios. This is something I wanted, and I got it. I embraced it and worked very hard, making a lot of personal sacrifices. My life has been designed around being able to do this, there are always challenges. We knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was incredible. My personal relationship with my same partner to this day has been the foundation for my continued ability to do what I’ve been able to continue doing.
To Kill Is Human is probably the only truly riff-centered Drawn And Quartered album, while all others strongly rely on captivating lead sequences as a juxtaposition to vigorous riffing, ultimately resulting in much more memorable songwriting. That said, do you think that people unconsciously downplay the band’s sonic prowess when they compare you to bands like Immolation and Incantation?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: Those two bands are the most easily recognized influences. So everything is basically an inspiration from there. There are many other less noticeable influences such as Morbid Angel, Dismember, Suffocation, Monstrosity, Cannibal Corpse, Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Darkthrone, Mayhem, Decrepit, Divine Eve, Cathedral, Napalm Death, Obituary, At The Gates, Exodus, Slayer, Metallica, Metal Church, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Amorphis, Entombed, Grave, Judas Priest, Death, Possessed, Sodom, Destruction, Mercyful Fate, Trouble. We have room to grow and need to up our game all the way around to compete with the amazing bands out in the world and those that have come before.
It is indeed admirable how highly you value songwriting consistency and how much emphasis you place on not letting songs slip into mediocrity as the albums unfold. As a fan, do you also primarily appreciate bands whose music rewards the patience of the listeners?
Kelly Shane Kuciemba: I’m coming from a place of an earlier time and way people enjoyed listening to music. My early experiences with buying and experiencing music were with records like Sgt. Pepper’s and Dark Side Of The Moon. I loved records like 2112 from Rush. I like that a band might have a concept record or two in the discography. Something with some kind of thought put into an overall composition or story. I’m also someone devoted to melody and a more classical approach. I guess I’d be more of a romantic composer, more dedicated to flowing melody lines than a barrage of notes. I have created a mini-concept on Side B of The One Who Lurks. This was musically and lyrically conceived with a specific inspiration. I have recently completed lyrics for five songs that continue this theme. We recorded them for a split CD to be released in 2022. The music was composed by a musician friend and associate of ours for many years. We discussed doing a project together and I decided to combine that idea with a split CD that involves guest appearances by both bands on each other’s side of the record. I had agreed to do a split CD with a band, thinking Plague Bearer would be further along on producing the full-length record we’d started. Unfortunately we were not able to do the split, due to still working on said record. Drawn And Quartered decided to step in and be part of this project I conceived of. It was a challenge to translate the song ideas into Drawn And Quartered music, but it came out really cool, quite a bit faster than originally composed. This has been a complex project, but we are very close to finishing the last of the recording sessions. I like to create recordings that reveal more and more with repeated listens, music that is compelling enough to want to listen to again. There is a lot of music that is quite technically impressive, but rather exhausting to try and listen to.
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