Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Interview with Funeral Grave of GRAVEWURM by Dave Wolff

Interview with Funeral Grave of GRAVEWURM

Before Gravewurm started in 1993 they were a doom-death metal band named Dominion, influenced by Black Sabbath, St, Vitus, Benediction and Unleashed. How active was this incarnation of the band and why the transition to black metal with Gravewurm?
The change was made from Dominion to Gravewurm to reflect the change in writing style. Albeit a subtle change, but I usually never liked when bands would change their style or sound and remain the same name, in a way, misleading the listeners. Dominion was just a learning phase really. Learning how to play and write. The whole concept of being 'a band' actually started before any of us even played. Lyric concepts and (loose) song structures were made before we bought any instruments. So it was a weird time and an unusual / unconventional way to start a band to say the least, haha.

Who did you found Dominion with? Had you known one another before starting a band? Are the members of Dominion also involved in Gravewurm, or were there lineup changes with the name change?
Dominion was originally founded by Blood on vocals and bass and Funeral Grave on guitar. We used a drum machine. We met in college through a mutual friend who was to be our drummer, but he backed out early on, hence using the drum machine to get the creation process started. After a few initial songs / concepts were recorded, our other friend wanted to join as vocalist and became known as Tyrant.
We started to write songs for another demo soon after he joined and changed the name to Born from Fear for a few months. The 'Morbid Decomposure Of Mankind' demo was recorded under that moniker, but then the band name changed to Gravewurm. An indie label called Vonzo Entertainment ran by the drummer of Nunslaughter at that time, showed interest in re-releasing that demo tape in 1993, but under the name Gravewurm since that was the official name by that time. Those tapes were limited to 100 copies with thick green card stock.
Vocalist Tyrant joined shortly before the name change to Born From Fear (which was really just a place holder of a name) and then to Gravewurm a few months later.

In what way was working in Dominion a learning experience, and how did you apply what you learned to working in Gravewurm?
We didn't know how to play at all when the band was created. So we learned how to play and how to write songs all at the same time. It was very 'trial and error'. The unusual way of doing things for us led to some unconventional ways of learning and creating.

How much of your lyrical concepts and loose songwriting you envisioned before starting a band became part of Dominion’s style?
The lyrical concepts and song styles were directly immersed in the Dominion creation. Primitive doom metal with some death metal flavor. Unfortunately our song writing wasn't very good back then so not too many songs were written. The general style carried over to Gravewurm in 1993, but with less doom and more black metal.

Was anything released by Dominion when they were active, such as rehearsal tapes or demos? If so, are any of them still available for trade or purchase?
We had a rehearsal tape in 1991 and a demo in 1992. They are no longer available through the band. Hard to say if any tape traders still have copies in circulation.

Do you remember how much distribution there was of your 1991 rehearsal and ’92 demo? Did the songs on your rehearsal tape appear on your debut demo, or did the demo feature different compositions?
I’m not sure; maybe fifty copies. They were just DIY tape dubs which went to trades and some zines. The Dominion songs ended with the name change.
Gravewurm’s Bestial Wrath rehearsal was re-recorded for the Possessed By Darkness demo. The demos Ancient Storms Of War and Nocturnal Spells were combined for the debut album (along with an intro created by Blakk of Angelkill). A few other demo songs over the years appeared on other releases.

How soon did you begin releasing new material after becoming Gravewurm?
Gravewurm has continuously written, recorded and released CD albums, split CDs, split 7" vinyls, cassettes and vinyl LPs for the past twenty five years. Through various lineup and label changes, we are currently near the time of releasing our fifteenth full length album entitled 'Dread Night' on my own label called Funeral Empire Records. January 4, 2019 is the official release date. Our full discography can be found on the Metal Archives website and many available releases (not all) can be found on our Bandcamp page. Physical CDs, vinyl, shirts etc are available through the band directly and through longtime friends, supporters Hells Headbangers Records and other distros.

Why did the band decide to continue releasing vinyl recordings in their career? Do you and the other members still collect vinyl albums when the opportunity arises?
I liked to do split releases with various bands, so doing split 7" vinyl was great for that at one time. With the rising cost of vinyl and lowering cost of CDs, it just became financially sound for labels to want to press CDs from around the mid 2000s and on. I'm not a huge vinyl collector, but I have releases that I find special to me and releases of my close friends’ bands.

What albums do you have on vinyl that you consider personally special, and albums from bands you’re friends with?
Only three of our full length albums have been released on vinyl thus far. The debut, ANCIENT STORMS OF WAR, the 2010 release, BLOOD OF THE PENTAGRAM and the 2015 release, DOOMED TO ETERNITY. Each of them (and all of the releases, when all is said and done) are special to me as they are a snapshot of time, a look into where the band was at in a specific period of time. The vinyl I have from friends’ bands include Grand Belial's Key, After Death, Sathanas, Nunslaughter and Druid Lord.

Are there mom and pop record stores near you that sell vinyl releases? How much of a comeback have you seen vinyl make in the last five years or so?
There are some independent stores in the Cleveland area which sell vinyl. It really never went away (from what I saw in the underground and special interests genres). I see vinyl now at Target stores of pop and/or rap music. I think it's silly, but if there's a market for something, then I can understand why companies are doing it from a financial point of view.

What was the first label Gravewurm signed to? How long were you seeking labels before you hooked up with them, and how many releases were handled and distributed by the first label to sign Gravewurm? How was the fan response to each of them?
Gravewurm was first signed to Vonzo Entertainment in 1993. We weren't looking for labels at all at that time, since we were still a demo band. Von was cool and it was nice that he took an interest in the band. He only made 100 copies of the 'Morbid Decomposure Of Mankind' cassette. I'm not sure how the response was since the band members had graduated from college shortly thereafter, and we did not see Von again for many years to even inquire about such. By the time we ran into each other again, about twenty years had passed so I wasn't concerned with the distribution of that tape anymore.

What independent label were you signed to after Vonzo Entertainment released Morbid Decomposure Of Mankind?
After Vonzo Entertainment, we signed to Barbarian Wrath in 1999 to release our debut album. They released the first four full length CD albums.

How did you hook up with Barbarian Wrath and how well did they do advertising and distributing your four albums? In what countries did they give you the most publicity? To your knowledge, is Barbarian Wrath still active today?
Barbarian Wrath contacted me in the late 90s after hearing a demo tape (not sure which one). He said he was ending his then current label, Nazguls Eerie Productions and starting a new label. Megiddo, Nunslaughter, Grand Belial's Key and Gravewurm were to be among the first pressed for that label to my recollection. At that time, there was little advertising going on with the label and he was not selling wholesale or doing trades from what I remember. I think that changed shortly thereafter. The status of the label now is uncertain due to the health issues of Opyrus.

How many split releases has Gravewurm appeared on since 1993? Are you still in touch with the bands you shared these splits with?
We have fifteen split releases to date. I am still in touch with some of the bands, like Sathanas, Nunslaughter and Derketa, but many of the bands have since broken up.

Was Gravewurm involved in further collaborations with Sathanas, Nunslaughter and Derketa after your split releases with them, live appearances and the like?
After the various split releases, the only other collaborative efforts with the bands has been a small tour with Sathanas in 2015 and a fest with Arduous Task in Connecticut a few years ago. Necrowolf from Arduous Task played bass for us in a few live shows as well. We are still in contact with those bands.

I read a common misconception is that Gelal Necrosodomy of Grand Belial's Key is a member of Gravewurm, because you and he used the same P.O. Box address. Is there any truth to this? Or what is the story behind it?
We shared a post office box when I lived in Virginia. The increased cost of living in the early 2000s resulted in me moving around the northern Virginia area a lot so I asked Gelal if I could get my mail through his p.o. box for a while. The GBK guys were friends and I hung out with Gelal and Vomit from Doomstone quite a bit back then. Gelal filled in on drums for a few shows around the mid-2000s, but he was never an official member.

Who is the band’s chief lyricist, or have the lyrics always been a collaborative effort between the band members?
I, Funeral Grave, am the chief lyricist. Tyrant wrote a few in the early days, Blood wrote and sang on the song Abbadon's Gate (which is on the Arcane Archives Vol. 2 collection) and Zyklon and I collaborated on a few songs in the mid-2000s.

How much has the band progressed musically and lyrically from 1993 to the present, with all the lineup changes during that time?
The band has not changed much since the early days. I wrote most of the music since the beginning and there was a singular vision for the band. Dark mysticism, ancient realms, sorcery, battles and eternity are among the main topics.

Which Gravewurm albums and/or EPs represent the most radical progressions for the band and why?
The only real "progressions" were made gradually and specifically on certain releases. Our 'Infernal Minions' album had keyboards on a few songs and there has been occasional lead guitar on a few songs in recent years. For the most part, the main music and lyric writing style has remained untainted by modern fads, trends and popularity. We never have had the desire to be in the mainstream. We remain in the underground... in the shadows.

Would the band consider adding strings or female vocals in your songs, or would you rather continue with traditional bass, guitars and drums?
The keyboards on our 2013 album 'Infernal Minions' have a violin type sound. We wanted a guest female vocal for a song a few years ago, but had a scheduling conflict and were unable to make that happen. We are mostly a simplistic band and can create what we need with just guitar, bass, drums and vocals... but on occasion we like the addition of something out of the ordinary for us.

Why do you and the band prefer to remain under the radar so to speak, instead of seeking aboveground recognition?
Our love of metal bands had always seem to come to a halt when bands reach a certain level of 'fame' because that usually signified a (significant) change in writing or even just style of music played. Very few bands have made such significant changes in sound and outlook and continued to hold my interest.

How well has the band generally been received by fanzines and major publications devoted to underground music?
The band overall has not received much praise nor even interest by the metal media over the years. There were increases upon certain releases, but mostly it's just hit-or-miss. Most people are thinking too much about it. In simplest terms, Gravewurm is metal for the fans by the fans. Most pro / semi-pro musicians which have heard our music hate it. They believe it's too simplistic for what most deem as what is needed for a 'proper' song. But we take note from the underdogs of metal, Goatlord and Hellhammer for example. Most people didn't understand them either, and that is a good thing.

What speaks to you about the material recorded by Goatlord and Hellhammer in their time?
Hellhammer and Goatlord captured the essence of pure anguish and power in their music. The tormented vocals, doomy yet aggressive riffs and pounding drums all created an atmosphere that was unique. Many bands were influenced by such sounds whether they know it or not. To me, they were like the Black Sabbath of extreme music. Pioneers who helped create a defining sound that has carried on for decades.

Since the band hasn’t been noticed in print as much, have you had to rely on endless self-promotion and endless live performances to make a name for yourselves? How much has the band been performing lately?
Endless promotion is the only way to survive in the underground. We have not played many live shows due to continuous line-up changes through the years, but we've done some good shows and fests. The current members of Gravewurm are in several other bands and live several states away so doing live shows is tough. In 2017 and 2018, we've only managed to play two shows. We are hopeful to return with more shows next year.

How much promotion has gone into your releases and live appearances? Does mailing fliers or advertising online help spread word more for the band?
Most of modern promotion is done online. There are physical flyers made for shows and on occasion for releases.

What other bands are members of Gravewurm involved in at present? Have any of those bands shared the stage with you?
The drummer plays in Twisted Tower Dire and Division. The bassist plays in Blasphemous and Gross. Gravewurm has not played with any of these bands.

At what fests in what countries has the band appeared in recent years? Were any of them major metal fests or local gatherings?
In recent times, the fests we have played were Prey For Death 2 in Connecticut, Something Bloody Fest in Rhode Island and Hells Headbash 2 in Ohio. All three were massive fests and successful in their own right, but HHB 2 was a huge label fest for Hells Headbangers Records.

Was HHB 2 the first Hells Headbangers fest you appeared at? How long have you been acquainted with them? Has the label released any of your material?
HHB 2 was the most recent fest we had played. Hells Headbangers had pressed four of our releases thus far. 2007 split 7" with Nunslaughter, 2010 CD / Lp of 'Blood of the Pentagram', 2013 CD 'Infernal Minions' and 2015 CD / Lp 'Doomed to Eternity'. I got to know those guys in the mid 2000s and had worked in their warehouse a few years ago.

Have you seen a greater number of metal fests emerging in the US these days? Are the turnouts the same or larger than they were in the 1990s? Are there fests overseas where you would like to appear?
I've noticed more fests here in recent years than ever before. I don’t get to attend many so I can't attest to the attendance. It would be great to return to Europe and even play in South America, but not sure how possible that would be with the current line-up.

What is the band’s present lineup and how long have you been working together?
Snjóhlébarði joined the band around 2011 to do live shows. Since then he's also recorded drums on some of our releases. Josh has been our session bassist since 2017 and recorded on our tribute to Goatlord song 'Primordial Goatlord' (on Arcane Archives Vol. 2).

How many tribute albums has Gravewurm appeared on? Are any of those tributes still available today?
We have not appeared on any tribute albums. The Goatlord tribute song was supposed to be on a four way split 7" but the status of that is unknown.

Does the band have a Youtube profile with videos of your fest appearances? Where on the internet can it be found?
Youtube has various clips of some of our shows over recent years. I believe there is a full set of us opening for Witchtrap in Maryland.

Talk about the making of your latest full length and how well it has done since it was released. In how many formats is it available and how can people acquire a copy?
The latest album Dread Night was written and recorded in the summer months of 2018 and mixed in the fall. The release date was January 4, 2019. Those who did the pre-order have received their copies and it has been very well received by those fans. Dread Night is available on my own label, Funeral Night Records. It is on our Bandcamp page as a digital download and a limited CD. This is the only official way to obtain it. The CDs are selling rather quickly.

How long has Funeral Night Records been active since you started it? Are other bands besides Gravewurm signed to the label? Where online can it be found?
All of the Gravewurm "self-released" products are under that umbrella. There is currently no plans for other releases to be on that label. It's been around for about ten years. Its only online presence is through our releases and Bandcamp page.

Where was Dread Night recorded and mixed? How much input into the sound and production did the band have?
Snjóhlébarði recorded the drums in Woodbridge, Virginia and I recorded in Lakewood, Ohio. Snjóhlébarði did the drum production and I handled the other instruments and final mix.

Was Dread Night produced independently by the band? Do you prefer producing your albums independently as opposed to working with a professional producer?
I have 'produced' all of the Gravewurm recordings. At times, there have been collaboration with certain engineers on some releases, but for the most part, it boils down to me. We're an underground band so I don't feel the need to be 'produced' by anyone who has not had a hand in creating the music.

What equipment do you usually use for recording, mixing, and mastering, etc?
I use a Korg multi-channel digital recorder and mixer.

What were the songs appearing on Dread Night written about and inspired by?
The inspiration for our songs has not changed much over the years, but this album focuses on ancient mysticism and talismans of night time, nocturnal powers from beyond, life, death and warriors long since turned to dust. Lyrics for the 'Dread Night' album are mostly fantasy. But as with a lot of our albums, some songs could be considered 'historical fiction' as well.

Where is the band planning to perform to promote the new album? Will you mostly be playing in the US or going overseas also?
Plans to play a few select shows on the east coast in the states are in the works, but nothing at this time is officially scheduled.

How soon do you imagine you‘ll start writing and composing songs for the next album?
There are beginnings of some new songs recorded for an MCD that may come out by the end of this year or early next year, depending on how we are with playing shows.

-Dave Wolff

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