Hi, congratulations on the Sentient Horror debut, 'Ungodly Forms'! I absolutely loved it. How have reactions from fans and media been so far? You were right on time for the end of year lists, got any nice mentions on that front?
Hello Sicktus! Thank you so much! Yes, the fan and media reaction has been incredible so far, we’re very happy with what’s been coming back to us. As far as year end lists… I saw we were listed as an honorable mention on Trevor Stnad from the Black Dahlia Murder’s best of 2016 list. That dude must review and listen to hundreds of metal records a year, so even to just get an honorable mention was pretty awesome to see!
'Ungodly Forms' was one of the best death metal albums of 2016, if you ask me. The most well-rounded, complete... I especially like the balance between furious brutality, oldschool catchiness and groove and more melodic elements. Was that something you set out to achieve? What was the goal when you started writing?
Thank you! Yes, I’m definitely a fan of that sort of. I hesitate to say death n roll, but maybe that traditional metal influence in a lot of the Swedish bands. Entombed’s 'Clandestine' album is a really good example of what I’m talking about. Amidst the death metal riffing you get those moments of some Mercyful Fate kind of riff or Sabbath, and it's great. So yeah, being a fan of traditional and progressive bands, I do really like to inject that element to what I write. For myself, to just be as brutal as possible all the time, I’d get bored writing like that. Some bands do that really well, but I don’t think it would hold my interest to take that mentality when writing.
A lot of people I know have already bought a copy of 'Ungodly Forms', or will do so soon enough. Does this reflect in the early sales? In other words, is the album doing well sales wise as well, besides doing well in the metal press/media?
I heard some figures, nothing exact because it was just of physical sales and not digital, but I believe it has done pretty well so far. I know in this day it's hard to sell physical albums, so I’m happy that people are buying it!
Perhaps what I liked best is the fact that 'Ungodly Forms' undeniably has its feet planted firmly in 1990 OSDM, but makes for more than 'just' a tribute/revival/retro sound, the songs are definitely memorable and stand out on their own. How do you view the big oldschool (Swedish and Florida scene) death revival that has been around for a while now? I myself have some mixed feelings, to be honest: it's great a genre gets some new blood and energy, but there's also a lot of stuff that is enjoyable, but very unoriginal and mediocre...
I think you’re going to get a mix of bands that are more or less creative in any stylistic movement, for sure. Personally, I’m just glad there is a move away from the brutal and tech trends that have been dominant at least in American death metal for years now. I do like some of that stuff. I really enjoyed the first two Obscura records a lot, but I think the move back to the oldschool aesthetic was much needed. The trick is being faithful to that aesthetic while doing your own thing. One band that is doing just that right now is Horrendous, and I really, really enjoyed their last record.
I hear some Bloodbath in your sound, some Gorefest, Grave, even some Carcass... What are your influences, what is your musical background? And, with the age difference in the band, what do the youngsters bring to the table, when it comes to musical influences?
Dead on with Gorefest and Carcass! I love those two bands. As far as the Swedish bands, I think I take a little bit from a lot of the big bands from that movement, but by far my biggest influence is Edge of Sanity. I grew up on 70s prog rock… my dad was a keyboard player and introduced me to that music when I was very young. So that's always been a part of my musical DNA. So I guess I tend to gravitate towards bands that have that kind of spirit in them. When I was a teenager I got huge into the shred guitar thing and practiced a lot. I still love that kind of guitar playing, although I have very strong opinions on the right way to do it. Yngwie Malmsteen is probably my favorite guitarist, but with Sentient Horror I try to inject some of that Bill Steer/Michael Schenker vibe, too. Our two youngest members (Ryan Cardoza - drums, and Ian Jordan - bass), do share a lot of the same taste in bands as I do, especially with the prog stuff, but I’d imagine the fact that I was their guitar teacher for six years probably rubbed off on them! The biggest difference I notice between myself and them is that I think they’re a lot more into black and doom metal than I am.
Speaking of the age difference, Matt, you met your band mates because you teach music, isn't that right? How does that work, you handpicked them from the talent pool, or you happened to share a taste in music, or do you really teach oldschool death metal courses?
Funny thing, and I will answer the last part of the question first. I teach at a franchise called the School of Rock, which I think most people know from the Jack Black movie; apparently his character in that film is based on the guy who founded the first school. The school is performance based, so students get put into “bands” that rehearse a themed show for three months and then get to perform it on stage at a rock club. So, one season I did actually have an Extreme Metal show that did feature oldschool death metal in it, as well as black, thrash, etc. and both Ian and Ryan were in that show (I believe Ian sang 'Left Hand Path'!). Its super fun, and I get to expose some great music to generations of kids that might not have heard it. So yes, occasionally, I do get to teach oldschool death metal! As far as selecting Ian and Ryan… when they graduated and went off to college, we stayed in touch. So when it came time to find musicians to play in Sentient Horror (at the time, Sentience), it was a no brainer to ask them. I knew they could play well and I knew we shared similar tastes.
What does the teacher-student relation bring into the band, into the rehearsal room? Does this affect the writing process, band hierarchy, or is everyone an equal part of the musical machinery?
I do something like 90% of the writing. The rest of the guys give more of an input when it comes to the song arrangements and arranging their individual parts. I’m not a band dictator, but more of the captain steering the ship. As far as having Ian and Ryan being my former students, there is a certain rapport you develop I think. I know I can be more direct with them with certain things, because they’re used to getting that kind of constructive criticism from me. Overall though, the personalities in the band gel incredibly well. There's never been any band fighting or bad vibes. Jon (Lopez, rhythm guitar), our newest member, I met him through a co-worker at the school I teach at, so he’s closer to me in age. I was concerned how well he would fit in with three guys that have known each other for years, but he fit right in with the rest of us.
Okay, back to the most obvious influence on you guys' music: oldschool Swedish death metal. The ingredients are there, the sound, the groove, the right mix between catchy and brutal, memorable songs, great riffs... If you ask ten people, you'll get ten different answers, but what is the defining element in '90s Swedeath, to you? I would say probably say 'groove' myself...
Groove, yeah, or kind of going back to what I mentioned earlier, that sort of traditional metal or punk vibe that crops up a lot. D beats instead of blast beats, haha! I just love the atmosphere. I love the dark, sinister melodies, and I love that a lot of those bands took risks, for better or worse. I think that ability to experiment is part of the spirit of death metal, something that I feel a lot of traditionalists miss. And of course, the guitar tone! The greatest rhythm guitar tone in the history of extreme metal, in my opinion. Nothing beats it for me.
How many HM2 pedals do you own?
Only one at the moment, unless you count the Berhinger HM300 or whatever its called, the pink plastic pedal. That was the first one I owned that got the “chainsaw” tone, because it was a lot easier to find. Then, for a present, one of my guitar students gave me an actual HM-2 as a gift. It's a Taiwanese one, but its served me well! I tried out a Throne Torcher and I loved it. Jon got one of them, and I’m probably going to invest in one soon, myself. I know the number one boutique clone is the Left Hand Wrath, but I’ve yet to try that one out.
But all joking aside, what is your Sentient Horror guitar setup?
It is rather simple. My main guitar is an Ibanez RG7421 that I’ve modified a bit. I put Dimarzio pickups in, a Deactivator Bridge and LiquiFire neck, and also scalloped the top six frets. I put a smoke mirror pickguard on it, cause it looks cool! I know seven strings aren’t particularly “old school” but it lets me keep the high E string for lead guitar work. Then I’ve got a Maxon Overdrive, the HM2, and a BOSS noise gate, and all that goes in front of a Peavey 6505+ amp. I have a Tech 21 Boost DLA pedal in the loop so I can simultaneously boost and add a little delay to my leads. I’ll probably be changing out the pickups in my guitar soon, though. I recently tried a Seymour Duncan JB bridge and Jazz neck in my six string and I totally love it. So I want to try that combination in my seven.
Lyrically... What inspires you in today's world? And what is the lyrical theme for Sentient Horror, if there is any?
I go more fantasy/horror with my Sentient Horror lyrics. I left the social commentary behind in 'Dark Empire'. I’ve loved campy horror stuff since I was a kid. My dad always had EC comics lying around and would make me watch the old black and white Universal films with him, and stuff like 'Creepshow', 'The Omen', etc. And to me that aesthetic fits right in with death metal. Especially looking at the covers Ed Repka did on the first two Death records. So I try to let the lyrics reflect that vibe. It's probably also a King Diamond influence, I have a mini “story” in mind with every song I write.
Matt, the move from Dark Empire was not just a move away from ten years of your own musical history, but also a move into a very different style of play with Sentient Horror. What led you to this change? Was it a gradual change in musical style you wanted to play, or was it a more sudden move?
It was gradual. As I mentioned, when I was a teenager I was really knee deep in shred guitarists and at the time, there really wasn’t a lot of that in death metal, so I listened to a lot of prog/power bands, because they had that guitar playing. I still like some of that stuff, mind you, but mostly the speed metal stuff like old Halloween, Rage, early Blind Guardian. Anyway, It was being into those speed metal bands that led me to thrash, and then once I heard the tech death bands coming out that sort of opened the door into death metal for me. So all of that was going on over the years I did Dark Empire. So it's like I just went deeper and deeper into the extreme world until I finally heard Dismember for the first time and was like “ok, this is the best death metal I’ve ever heard, what is this?” Hahaha! And you can hear by the time I did the third Dark Empire record, that was coming out in my writing. There's a song on there, 'Lest Ye Be Judged', that is full of Swedeath sounding riffing. I was trying to see if you could blend the extreme riffing with clean singing, sort of like how Nevermore did it, but despite my ambitions, it didn’t work for the fans.
When you put Dark Empire on ice, you started this new band, but back then it was called Sentience (2014-2016), only to change the name pretty much "right" before the debut full-length. Why the name change? And what is the story behind the name/names - if there is one?
Sentience was just a cool sounding name a friend had suggested, and I liked that it was a little ambiguous. We changed it because the label, Testimony Records, had pointed out there was another Sentience out there that was a djent band from the UK. I was unaware of this because when I first searched the band name I was only looking for other metal bands with the name, so they flew under my radar. The label wanted to avoid confusion. I figured Sentient Horror was a good choice, because it kept part of the old name, but then also added to the notion that we are a death metal band with the word “Horror.”
As Sentience, you recorded an demo/EP, called 'Beyond The Curse Of Death'. Pretty much the same line-up, so if someone wants more of you guys' music, can they expect stuff in the same vein, when they go looking for that EP? An is it still available, hard-copy or digital?
It's a digital download on our the Sentient Horror band camp page. It's actually even further in the Edge of Sanity realm than 'Ungodly Forms' is. Our original rhythm guitarist was much more into the straightforward approach, so he kind of steered some of the music on 'Ungodly Forms' away from that more progressive approach. With that in mind, I’d imagine when I start to write again, there will be more of that in the music once more, but I don’t like to say anything like that for certain until I’ve actually written something.
When you pulled the plug on Dark Empire, there was talk of a possible reunion / reboot of Dark Empire in the future. Any news on that front, or is that really a thing of the past now?
I still talk to the other guys, and it will happen someday, but when all of us are ready. I want to focus on Sentient Horror and Andrew (Atwood) is busy with Helstar and his own thrash/speed band The Scourge. In the meantime, Andrew and I have talked about a speed metal project and we did do some writing for it already, but again, its about when we’ll have time to finish it.
Back to Sentient Horror... I really like the 'Ungodly Forms' artwork by Patrik Tegnander. I don't know what it is, but it is such a stunning piece of (throwback) art. It reflects a lot of oldschool album art, without it being a 'picture puzzle' or a mashup. I am however reminded of Napalm Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Suffocation. The great Seagrave, but also other stuff. Astonishing. How did you end up hiring Patrik and how did the design originate? Did you guys give him any directions at all?
Patrik has been a friend of mine for a while. He got recommended to check us out from Penki Samuelsson, one of the Entrails guitarists that I passed our demo off to at Maryland Deathfest. He’s a super talented artist so I asked him to do the cover. The only direction I gave him was that I wanted it to reflect the album title. So when you think of the title 'Ungodly Forms' it makes you wonder what an “ungodly form” looks like. And of course that conjures up some nameless Lovecraftian monstrosity or something to that effect. So that's what he wound up drawing and I loved it the minute I saw it. Same thing goes for the t shirt design he did which became some secondary album artwork. I told him I wanted him to draw a “Sentient Horror”. So he came up with this weird zombie thing with no face and just a lower jaw with teeth. Creepy shit!
Artwork like this really deserves a vinyl version... You guys are signed with Redefining Darkness Records (USA) and Testimony Records (Europe). Will there be a vinyl version?
Yes! By the time this goes to print, I believe preorders will be up, so I might as well mention the release date is March 3rd!
Speaking of "will there be a".... Will there be a tour, supporting the album, or a series of gigs? And will we see you guys live in Europe? Any plans on that front? Would be great!
Definitely lots of weekend warrior travels for us here in the North Eastern US. a proper tour at this point is difficult because Ian is in some serious schooling working towards his PhD. We haven’t gotten any offers for Europe yet, but that is something we really want to do.
What does the immediate future hold for Sentient Horror? Any cool stuff you're working on? Any new music done yet, plans for an EP or split perhaps?
We just put in an order for some embroidered patches that we will have ready soon. Besides booking gigs for the winter/spring I’ve started to mess around with some riffs, but nothing serious yet. I want to start writing seriously soon though, so we can start recording a 2nd record before the end of the year. I’m thinking once I have an albums worth of songs we can look and see if any one or two would be good for a split or EP with another band. Personally, I also completed some guest solos for a really killer OSDM project that should be coming out in 2017. I can’t say more about it, but the album rules, and I was really happy to be a part of it.
And the long run: what are the goals for Sentient Horror?
I’d like to get a 2nd record out in 2018. It’d also be cool to release the demo in physical form at some point, since we’ve gotten requests for that. Right now isn’t a good time since I want full attention paid towards the new record. And of course, as I’ve mentioned I’d love it if Sentient Horror could get over to Europe for some shows or a festival.
Alright, that wraps it up. Any last words? Since this interview is also a promotional vehicle for you guys, please feel free to mention anything I might have missed and you want to have in the interview. I will try to work it in somewhere above.
I think I mentioned everything I wanted to. Thank you to everyone that purchased the record! Hopefully we will get to play for you soon!