Interview with Death Denied by Dave Wolff
How much notice has Death Denied received since releasing their third full length “Through Waters, Through Flames” on Sarcophagus Records? Are more people listening to it at streaming sites or ordering the digipak CD release? How much effort has the label put into promoting it?
Jakub ‘Vincent’ Wincencjusz (bass, backing vocals): Sarcophagus was started by a colleague of ours from another band (Symbolical) and it's a fledgling label. The main support we got, was financial - to get the ball rolling on the production of the CDs and other associated merch.
As far as our “reach” goes, it's been on a very slow, but ultimately upward, trajectory. We handle the promotion ourselves and with each release, we have a better grasp on what things to do and what not - trial and error... The positive feedback from the earlier releases also translates to a wider net that we can cast now and hopefully in the future.
Death Denied is based in Poland, home to bands like Vader, Behemoth, Decapitated, Frontside and many more. How would you describe the current status of Polish extreme metal?
JVW: Well, we have the classic bands from the 80's that didn't make a big splash abroad, but are really important for the scene from a historical standpoint - Kat, Turbo, TSA. Some of them have lately been involved in ‘naming disputes' (think: Venom vs. Venom Inc.) or similar shenanigans. We also recently lost some of their original members due to illnesses and age (Roman Kostrzewski or Andrzej Nowak for instance).
Other bands you've mentioned like: Vader, Behemoth, Decapitated or Hate have been doing their thing for decades now and they continue to do so, they have a loyal following that they worked on by relentless touring, decent release schedule and so on. We even managed to rub elbows with some of the people from that neck of the woods. Vogg (Decapitated) played a guest solo on our EP; Paul (Vader, Hate etc) did a short drum solo on our debut album and we've recorded our first two LPs with Filip "Heinrich" Hałucha' (Decapitated, Vessania, Hate, Behemoth) in his studio.
When it comes to younger bands (and by younger I mean bands that popped up in the last 10-15 years) our country has always had a good black/death metal output. Bands like Mgła or Odraza have been popular here and abroad. In our hometown groups like Odium Humani Generis or Valkenrag have been growing in popularity in recent years.
Around 2010 stoner/southern/doom music had a surge in popularity. Bands like our rose from that wave. The two most prominent would be Dopelord and Belzebong.
What was the inspiration for naming the band Death Denied? Does the name have meaning or connotations your listeners should know about?
JVW: The story behind the name is kind of nerdy: When we were students, living in a dorm one of our friends had a lot of those Magic: the Gathering cards. While browsing through them Gecko stumbled on one called: 'Death Denied' and commented that this would make a pretty cool band name. He went back the idea when the band started taking shape. I think it was just 'the rule of cool'. Jokingly we can say that Death Denied refers to the fact that we haven't dissolved yet, despite the stuff we all went through along those 10 plus years of being active.
What is the band’s current lineup, and did any members previously play in other bands?
JVW: The lineup consists of Gecko (vocals and guitars), Kiemon (guitars), Wicia (drums) and myself (bass). We've been playing in this lineup since around 2014-2015 and it recorded every album after our debut.
When it comes to other projects: Gecko, Kiemon and myself played in some metal bands (heavy, thrash, death, black) in the past bu
t the aforementioned groups are long gone and usually only have a couple of badly recorded demos to their name. As far as trivia go: Gecko used to play guitar with a Polish pop singer for many years.
Wicia on the other hand is the only classically trained musician in our group and can play a number of instruments proficiently. He has been involved in too many diverse music projects to name here, playing everything from death metal, through punk rock to folk music. The last one he did was a Bolt Thrower-ish group called 'Chains'. Sadly, they no longer exist.
Who was the Polish pop singer Gecko played for? When he joined the band, what aspects of his experience did he bring?
JVW: That would be Natalia Szroeder. Gecko is one of the founding fathers of the band, as well as the main composer, so his style and sensibilities are the backbone of the band's music.
How did the experience affect him? I would say he has a better stage presence and gained a lot a confidence do to a huge amount of live shows he played with Natalia. He also learned a lot about how big gigs are organized and set up sound wise (the whole backstage thing). I would also point to the business aspect of running a band. Getting to watch 'the pros' do it is a valuable learning experience.
In what ways has Gecko’s experience with business and organizing gigs been beneficial to Death Denied?
Rafał 'Gecko' Powązka (vocals, guitars): Being involved in the activities outside of our music genre but still within music business allows you to see the solutions they utilize and this may be then copied onto our small-scale enterprise. Also, you are able to meet people that can help you with promo/distribution or other band's activities.
Do you typically use flyers, websites, social media, and word-of-mouth to promote your releases? Is there a particular method that works best for the band?
JVW: In this day and age, without a doubt, the Internet and Social Media. I spend countless hours sending promos via Email or traditional post, to various magazines, websites, promoters etc. It's a thankless task, but once in a while, somebody is genuinely interested and our music we reaches new people.
We do live shows of course, mostly in our homeland, but from time to time we get invited to play a gig or two in the neighboring counties. It's always fun. Lately due to the pandemic live shows were off the table for quite some time, but we managed to book some venues for this fall and winter. We also started talks with some summer festivals in Poland; we'll see how it goes.
Did the band press their own CDs and manufacture their merchandise before signing with Sarcophagus Records? Can you tell me how much material you have out and when Sarcophagus became interested in you?
JVW: Like I said in my first answer, we still do. Sarcophagus took some of the costs upon themselves, but we still design and order the merch ourselves. We usually have the regular stuff: clothing, pins, stickers, baseball caps and CDs.
JVW: Physical albums are mostly a collector's item now, so with each album, we don't go overboard with the quantity (some people frankly told us, that they are buying our shirts and stuff like that, but they won't buy the CDs as they listen to us on Spotify, Deezer or some other platform). We mostly focus on the graphic aspect of the release, trying to make the booklet as nice looking as possible. Personally I can't stand when you buy a CD and the booklet is just five pages of credits and lyrics written in Times New Roman on some uninspired background.
Do the band members have professional backgrounds in graphic design? Did they self-educate or were they students of the trade?
JVW: Nah, we outsource the covers to professionals - Anna Helena Szymborska in the past and Maciej Kamuda for the recent album. The booklets are done by our ex-guitarist Jackobh, who is self-thought and 'gets it' since he's a metalhead and was a part of the band in the beginning. We usually discuss the concept and ideas for the booklet with him and then we provide comments, as the goes along and presents us with what he created so far. Gecko also makes some of the graphical work for our websites and posters, he's self-educated as well.
Who else has Anna Helena Szymborska and Maciej Kamuda designed cover art for? How did you come across their work, and how much would you say they “get it” when it comes to interpreting the band’s vision? Same for Jackobh and Gecko?
JVM: I've meet Anna at some random concert in Łódź, when we were both students, through some mutual acquaintances and we became friends. She came to be a great illustrator and comic book artist in Poland. When we started recording our first materials, she was an obvious pick. She did cover art for Devil's Sermon, Moloch Letalis or Intestinal.
As far as Maciej goes he did some artwork for various bands around our country (Las Trumien, J.D. Overdrive or Sunnata to name a few) as well as book covers (s-f, horror and so on) so we have been aware of him for some time. As we changed a lot while making this record (producer, studio and our songwriting approach to name a few) we decided to get someone new to do the cover. Both Anna and Maciej listen to metal so they knew what we were going for, without a lot of corrections and explaining. When it comes to Jackob - he used to play guitar in our band, and we have known each other for years. He understands our music, the lyrics and our vision. Usually we just grab beer and talk about what we envision for the booklet and he just makes it happen.
When sending promo releases to promoters, zines, and websites, how often do you receive interest? With so many bands around, is it harder these days?
JVW: It depends on the recipient. We have some zines, promoters and websites that we've already worked with and that know us. It accelerates the process in most cases. Some of them are a black hole and you never get an answer. In some cases you get tagged, a year or so from sending them the material, in some sort of ‘missed but recommended’ or 'hidden gem' lists of the year 20XX - it's always nice. Nevertheless you have to be diligent, hardheaded and tenacious.
Which zine editors you work and promote with are most reliable? Do you discover most of them on social media or is it even between the net and print zines?
JVW: I usually try to keep a tally of people who did right by us. Sometimes they change the zine website they write for, whatever the reason... Sometimes you simply get a heads up that a zine or a website is just a scam go get free stuff from bands. It's good to have a network of people you can rely on. When it comes to discovering new websites or zines, like I said: sometimes people jump ship from one to a new one and give me a heads up, sometimes I just check from where our peers get reviews from and contact people there.
How much more has social media helped obscure and unsigned bands be heard in the last decade? Do you still see a need for print zines today?
JVW: It helps exposure and you don't need label support to get yourself out there. Don't think we would have fans from the USA, Brazil or other counties in Europe without social media. All concerts we did outside our country, where also invitations from people, we got to know via the Internet. I think this would be impossible let's say in the 90', without some sort of label backing. As far as printed zines go I would say they are cool collector’s item for die-hards, kinda like physical media (CD's, Vinyls and so on). Maybe there'll be a resurgence or something in the upcoming years. Who knows?
Can you tell me about the shows you've booked for the fall and winter? What Polish metal festivals are you considering for live appearances?
JVW: We're going to play Warsaw, Wrocław, Łódź, Katowice, Cracow and some smaller Polish towns. When it comes to summer festivals I can't disclose anything, as in some cases we can't advertise our attendance before the organizer does and in some we're still negotiating.
How do you anticipate being received when you perform in those towns in Poland? What countries if any are you setting sights on after you’ve played there?
JVW: Ain't gonna be modest here: we're a good, energetic live act. That's why usually we get good reception, even if we play, with let's say: death or black metal bands. Sometimes we adjust our set, in order to play more of our faster songs, to get our best foot forward.
Personally I like to play in small towns, as the people there are usually hungry for live music and have fun in the pit.
As far as other countries go we would like to play Germany, Czech Republic, France or the UK. I won't lie - I would really like to do some gigs in the USA and some exotic countries, but I try to look on such things realistically - baby steps...
Do you know how well your two previous albums were received by listeners and critics? How does “Through Waters, Through Flames” differ from its predecessors?
JVW: All of our previous output was received rather positively; with review scores usually being somewhere between 7 to 9 out of ten. As of now “Through Waters, Through Flames” is getting similar scores, with a caveat, that it seems to be our most ‘mature’ and ‘diverse’ album yet. At least in the eyes of the reviewers.
From our perspective, this one has been the closest to a ‘team effort’ we've ever did. In the past Gecko would write the bulk of the music, with the rest of the band contributing, more or less, one song per member on the album, as well as a riff or two here and there. I would write most of the lyrics. This dynamic didn't change much, per se, but Kiemzo, Wicia and myself contributed more music this time. Gecko and Wicia also wrote some of the lyrics. As is usual, we worked on the arrangements in our rehearsal space together. Due to the pandemic we had a lot more time for it, than on the previous album. We've also did an honest to god pre-production before recording. So I would agree with the assessment that it's the most diverse of our output as all of us have different inspirations and ways to approach music.
Was “Through Waters, Through Flames” your first time doing pre-production or had you done it for any past albums?
JVW: First time. Not counting the times we recorded our rehearsals to practice the songs at home, write lyrics and so on. It ate up some more of our fee time but was worth it, as we could better re-work our parts and the songs themselves.
Which of your songs on the new album contain the most matured lyrics? What were said songs written about and how relevant do you consider them?
JVW: Hard to say... I'm my own worst critic when it comes to lyrics.... I like 'High Priestess of Down Low' - it's about my friends struggles with depression, but it's dressed in Lovecraftian/fantasy attire. 'Lesser Daemons' is about different thoughts that keep you at night - worries, guilt and so on. 'Concrete Cathedrals' despite the upbeat bluegrass music, deals with the topic of losing the fight with drug addiction. 'The Apostate Soul' on the other hand is about televangelists - got people like that in Poland, but they operate in a different way, than the ones in the USA.
I try to write about relatable stuff. Things that I, or people I know lived through, even if sometimes I give it a horror or fantasy spin. I try to leave my lyrics opened to interpretation - I'm not your primary school teacher to tell you what to think and how to interpret the song.
We don't do concept albums but due to the fact that I usually have to write about ten lyrics in a span of a month some of the songs can deal with similar topics ore have some sort on connective tissue between them. A good example would be 'The Plague Doctor' and 'The Prince of Crows' from the previous album.
Is there any new material the band has started working on for a future release? Do you have as much time to write as before due to the pandemic?
JVW: We usually take our time when it comes to writing music. The two main factors are:
Money - we have go get enough of it, to record and produce the album and it takes time to gather the required amount.
The second would be time - we all have day jobs, families and so on... so we usually practice once or twice a week, for a couple of hours. The process usually takes time. That's why we usually try to get our ideas to a more or less a presentable form, before showing them to the rest of the band.
Afterwards we work together on the arrangements. We add and subtract stuff; change things around the usual...
After the last writing session we got 3-4 songs left on the cutting floor. Maybe we'll get back to them, maybe not.
I've got some new riffs written but nothing finished. I know for a fact that the guys have some kernels of ideas as well.
Maybe we'll start writing something new in the Fall or Winter of 2023. Can't say for sure. We usually have a 3-4 year gap between albums - maybe it'll be shorter this time. We'll have to wait and see.
Will the band continue to write and compose as you did for “Through Waters, Through Flames”, with input provided by each member?
JVW: I would presume yes. We have more or less one rule: It has to be good; we have to like it. We don't care from whom the idea comes from or if the song is thrashier or grungier.
I usually write most of the lyrics but Gecko and Wicia wrote some for this album as well. Gecko does most of the music for example 'The Apostate Soul', High Priestess of Down Low', ' Smoke, Soot and Solitude' or 'Behind the Surreal'. Kiemon came up with 'Lesser Deamons' - if something sounds ZZ Topish - it's usually Kiemzo. Wicia, our drummer, did 'Concrete Cathedrals' and 'The Machine' - in my personal the songs couldn't be more stylistically apart, but it goes to show what rage he has. I composed 'Carnate' and 'Nocturnal'.
We work on the arrangements and add stuff together, so a lot of these songs have mixed credits. As usual working in a group can be more consuming but the songs don't get stale and sometimes a different perspective or idea can be good for the music.