The fifth studio album for Baltimore's Misery Index, The Killing Gods, pushes the band into new melodic territory while remaining true to their death metal/grindcore roots. The group also recently performed twice during Maryland Deathfest XII, once at the Ottobar pre-fest show and their main performance at the Edison Lot stage on Sunday.
Among one of metal's hardest working bands, Misery Index has thrived on a steady diet of touring and recording pretty much since inception in 2001. This schedule has not stopped vocalist/bassist Jason Netherton from working on earning his PhD at the University of Western Ontario and from writing a book, Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground. Nor has it prevented drummer Adam Jarvis from being in every single band I know including grinders Pig Destroyer, doom metallers Asthma Castle, and his cousin John's group, Fulgora. Guitarist/vocalist Mark Kloeppel has provided vocals for the Fulgora project and is the song writing machine for Misery Index. Their new guitarist Darin Morris is not really new at all, having played with both Mark and Adam in the Maryland death metal band Criminal Element.
Mark was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new record and just what's up with Misery Index today. I'm addicted to the new album, favoring tracks "Conjuring the Cull" and "The Weakner." It's a satisfying listen from start to finish. Read on for Mark's comments.
First off, I am loving the new album! It seems—albeit loosely – like a concept album. What were some of the challenges and triumphs in putting it together? What are you particularly proud of on this record?
We were a bit conflicted in doing a full-on concept record, as we weren't sure the attention span of the digital age would tolerate it. Those types of listeners need quick, sometimes concise, and more individualized pieces that aren't necessarily part of a bigger thing. That said, our fellow vinyl spinners are used to the conceptual long haul. The vinyl format sort of caters to more of an epic and literary type exhibition. In our indecision, both styles of artifacts emerged from the creative process. The first sixteen minutes is a concept piece in five parts based upon Marshall Berman's explication of Goethe's Faust in "All That is Solid Melts into Air." We will talk about that later. After that, more individualized songs emerge.
Outside of the conceptual challenge we presented ourselves, production was also a major challenge. Luckily, we had a really strong mixing and mastering team in Steve Wright and Tony Eichler, respectively. In 2010, the metal crowd was more into inhuman “perfect” sounding records. That’s what our last record sounds like. We don’t particularly like that style of production, but it’s easier to churn out when you have an extremely limited timeline. With “the Killing Gods,” we really took our time with the production; not so much the tracking, but the mixing and mastering. We really wanted to stick to natural sounds; relaying the subtle nuances that indicate a human being is playing the parts, without losing the modern production value. The process was laborious, with different members having to periodically bow out of the process due to stress. In the end, though, our production team nailed it…all the way from the sound to the finely crafted aesthetics of the album art by Gary Ronaldson. It is an organic record in the purest sense, and that is what the public wants to hear. They want to hear the actual raw visceral energy that comes out of this music. That’s what you hear on “The Killing Gods.”
Tell me about the songwriting process for The Killing Gods, especially with the multi-part composition “Faust”? How did this piece come together, and why did you decide to present it like this?
Faust is broken into five sections comprising the first fifteen and a half minutes of the record. As previously stated, Faust is lyrically based upon Marshall Berman’s interpretation of Faust in his book “All That Is Solid Melts into Air.” Jason, our bass player, presented this concept, and I ran with it. Berman takes a literary approach to the consequences of modernity versus a nineteenth century Enlightenment drive for progress and the growth of capitalism. He talks about these issues through Faust, and how Faust is a sort of tragic figure in his drive to progress, as he destroys it at the same time.
The piece emerged out of a natural organic creative process over a couple years. Each riff, lead, and transition was mulled over and mulled over again to ensure proper placement and conveyance. I had this vibe in my head that emerged out of a personal darkness I felt a long long time ago. I wanted to embody that emotion and everything attached to it in music, and cast it back out into the universe. It was a cathartic process that, through a bit of strife, helped to cleanse my mind and spirit. Playing that music live now is very rewarding and therapeutic for me, as it allows me to let some of my personal demons evaporate into the air…one hallowed scream at a time.
In terms of presentation on the album, it just sounded, literally, like the right way to begin the record. It really sets a good atmosphere for the rest of the songs to reside. We were curious how we were going to pull it off, and, in the end, Rush’s 2112 format was enough justification. For those not familiar with that record, it begins with the epic 2112, and rounds out with individual songs toward the end. So, we haven’t reinvented the wheel with this or anything. We just took everything we know about good albums into consideration, and tried to do what we are supposed to do.
Let’s talk about the lyrical content. Many earlier Misery Index songs deal with government oppression or corporate corruption. I am not a student of Misery Index Lyrics (perhaps that’s a class Dr. Jason Netherton can teach) but some of the lyrics seem to deal with much more spiritual and metaphysical themes than in previous years. How do the lyrical themes of The Killing Gods line up or diverge from these previously explored themes?
"The Killing Gods" is an intrinsically influenced literary and metaphysical side-step for the band to explicate real world travesty through prose. "The Killing Gods" as a whole follows the means of human control from the metaphysical to the physical (in that order), with a brief sojourn mid record into our collective personal juxtaposition in these realms. The record revolves around themes of religious oppression, military oppression, hidden knowledge, and the intrinsic dark plume billowing in our minds like thick impenetrable smoke. It leaves the listener both digging deeper into their dark recesses and following those emotions as they extrinsically manifest. This record is a study of this bigger picture; utilizing literature, real world events, and tacit knowledge as a means of explication.
Musically to me this album feels more traditional death metal and less “core” but also incredibly melodic. Would you agree? Disagree?
I think I agree. However, I am a little too close to the record to make any kind of distinction or label. I hear a lot of people saying what you are saying. Really, though, this record contains ninety percent of the same elements Misery Index has always had. I liken Faust to the Dissent EP, which is also a fifteen minute five-part epic of sorts. I think the really difference is the vibe. The vibe is dark and evocative. In fact, I have to admit we had some kind’ve spooky things happen in the studio while recording this record. I was recording the vocals for “The Harrowing” and got to a particular word, and, out of nowhere, there was a delay effect on my vocals pumping right in time with the rhythm of the song. It really scared Steve, because he did not turn anything on. When he zoomed out in the view of the session there was an effect spike set to the bpm of the song that was not visible until zoomed out to the millisecond. You can still hear it on the record, as we left it there. There are many other anomalies on the record as well that we left…things that put themselves there. So, when I say evocative, I mean literally. I really do not mean to sound cheesy here. I just can’t deny real events. It appears the manifestation process can drag things with it.
Where did the inspiration from these songs (musically and lyrically) come from? Literature? Film? Life?
When a band is just starting, they take a tremendous amount of time crafting their debut music. There is a lot of trial and error and perfecting of the craft. When the act is signed, they are thrown into this whirlwind year-and-a-half to two-year album cycle. It is a double edged sword, because one really becomes seasoned quickly in that schedule. However, the records are never what they could have been. I believe the music suffers for the sake of having a product to sell. For this record, we wanted to take our experience and write a record the same way we would if we were just starting. The difference is, we have proficiency in things bands starting out don’t have. So, the benefit of time we consciously took, and that organic writing approach probably inspired the record the most.
What are your favorite songs to play live? Old and new…
Conjuring the Cull and The Weakener are really fun live. We are also gearing up to do The Harrowing from the new record. We also like Traitors, Manufacturing Greed, and The Carrion Call. They are ripping songs, get great crowd participation, and very fun to play.
How are you feeling about your Maryland Deathfest performances? Pre-fest versus Edison Lot sets? Small venue versus festival audiences? I saw both performances.
We thoroughly enjoyed both sets. We were able to get the crowd moving, which is most important, and they were poised to do so. Open Airs are a little tougher in terms of hearing each other, but we are pretty seasoned at this point. We can power through just about any situation, or any type of crowd. It helps when they are ready to go, so to speak, and, at MDF, they were.
I sort of would like to add a little more to our presentation, but it needs to be original. We are still brainstorming on that.
Misery Index is now a pretty well-traveled band. Which countries go crazy for Misery Index and which do you feel you still need to conquer? Who would you like to tour with?
Indonesia and Germany are without a doubt our primary markets. Although, we get pretty great responses most places. We really could use a breakout tour in the states that’s not death metal. I still think we haven’t been a part of the right tour over here.
I feel like a lot of times the town that a band comes from does not always appreciate them as much as other regions do, you know, like they are taken for granted in their own backyard. How would you describe your relationship with your local fans and those across the globe?
I think there is a natural ebb and flow of excitement that happens as a band progresses. When they first splash in their local scene, or when they first break out of their local scene, there tends to be a lot of excitement. When they start touring a lot, they sort of become old hat. But, after some longevity, people begin to remember and embrace you as a staple of their community. I think that is where Misery Index is now. I don’t think we have as many local fans, as we have local friends. Since the bands inception, we’ve gotten to know just about everyone in the area in some capacity. What’s strange is when that starts happening abroad. We have a long list of towns and venues across the planet that are like a home away from home now.
After you get back from this next trek to Europe, what are your plans? US touring?
We are confirming a festival in Quebec right now, and are in negotiations for many other opportunities extending through 2015. That’s all I can say at this point. I will say that we anticipate this album doing a lot of good work for us. So we are going to be particular about what we do. That is just to do justice to our legacy, the music, and ourselves.
Also, what do you want people to know about Jason’s book Extremity Retained? What sort of comments have you received about it from people at the Grimposium and at MDF? (PS, that Grimposium looked interesting, but I don’t know how I feel about putting “my music” into an academic setting for analysis. I guess it happens with everything. Anyone want to comment on that?
Jason put that together over three years, and its really just documented tour stories from the originators of this scene. It’s a really great one-of-a-kind thing. I’m really glad he did it; because of the kind of unrestricted access we have to these key players. It’s been pretty neat listening to some of his recorded interviews. I thought those should’ve been released as well. Obviously, it has been received well both in academia and our scene.
Anything else you want people to know about Misery Index at this time?
“The Killing Gods” is out now on Season of Mist records. Go get it, and check our social media sites to stay up to date. Fresh merch designs are available through Indiemerch. Also, We have a music video for “The Calling” coming out soon, and some behind the scenes studio stuff coming out through Gear Gods. Go check it out, and support your local Misery Index!