Though it has only been maybe two or three months since I first heard DEAD CONGREGATION’s recent album, "Graves Of The Archangels", it has already left a profound impression upon me and substantially altered my perception of Metal in much the same way as when I first heard "Mortal Throne Of Nazarene". From the densely layered cascading guitars of the opening instrumental track to the epic final culmination of ‘Teeth Into Red’, "Graves Of The Archangels" had me instantly captivated with its abysmally dark and flawlessly constructed songs that weave together brilliant instrumentation, powerful and malevolent vocals, and seamless transitions to produce a record that will surely take its place among the classics of Death Metal. I had first been exposed to DEAD CONGREGATION upon the release of their mini-LP, "Purifying Consecrated Ground" and, although at that time it was already clear that DEAD CONGREGATION were easily among the top Death Metal bands in the underground, I had no idea that they would produce a masterwork of such deathly intensity as "Graves Of The Archangels" so early in their history. Eager to learn more I summoned DEAD CONGREGATION’s A.V. (guitar and vocals) to lead me through the catacombs of the depraved consciousness of DEAD CONGREGATION.
Hails A.V. I have been listening extensively to "Graves Of The Archangels" and I must say that I have never heard anything quite like this darkened masterpiece. It is surpasses even your incredible mini-LP, "Purifying Consecrated Ground" by many orders of magnitude and demonstrates tremendous growth for the band. Can you describe the events that have brought DEAD CONGREGATION to this point beginning with your previous incarnation as NUCLEAR WINTER?
"Glad to hear such words of appreciation from an outsider, bands always tend to say that their new work is so much better than their older material but one cannot be too objective towards his own art. NUCLEAR WINTER has nothing in common with DEAD CONGREGATION apart from me being part of both bands. I never had much to do with NUCLEAR WINTER though, at least not creatively as the other members were writing most of the music. For me it was mostly fun with friends and when all of the old members had left and I was left the sole composer of the band it was more than crystal clear to me that instead of keeping a band alive that was other people’s vision in the first place, I should create something of my own and focus all of my efforts into that. Hence the birth of DEAD CONGREGATION. Once I found the proper members to complete the line-up things took off quite effortlessly from there. We just compose and play the music that makes us feel complete deep inside, there’s not much more to say than that."
On "Graves Of The Archangels" you seem to be exploring slightly different sonic territory than on the mini-LP. Was this a deliberate effort or did this sound evolve naturally?
"I’d say that we put way more effort in creating "Purifying Consecrated Ground" because at that time we did want to sound in a specific way – trying to sort of establish our sound. For "Graves Of The Archangels" we just let go… We didn’t have any limitations for our compositions, it was like: "Fuck it. If it sounds and feels right, we keep it." I believe that it’s far more important for an artist to remain true to himself than worrying about being accepted by his fans or by a specific genre. I also think that the evolution of our music has much to do with us being more confident as song-writers and more comfortable with each other as band members. Each of us knows what to expect from the other and the composing process flows from the subconscious…"
There seems to be a recent increase in the number of new bands that play a style reminiscent of classic early 1990’s Death Metal and yet manage to offer their own fresh interpretation. Do you agree and if so, how does DEAD CONGREGATION fit in with this new breed of Death Metal? With which bands do you feel the greatest connection musically?
"There has been a revival of ‘oldschool’ Death Metal, in my opinion it was bands like KAAMOS who triggered this effect about 9 years ago… Apart from the countless bands who jumped in the train because it was the hype thing to do there have been a few exceptions who actually created something unique, such as the mentioned KAAMOS, Necros Christos, Grave Miasma, Drowned, Repugnant, Funebrarum, to name a few. I can only speak for myself – our sound is a mixture of influences and experiences that have been having an affect on me for more than 20 years so I can’t create something that sounds old or new. I’m forged as a composer by many different eras of Death Metal’s history and that has its impact on our songs… To be honest, if I list the bands that influence me you’d be shocked, haha. As for our connection with other bands, we may connect with some in the passion and spirit that we put into our music, our dedication to this Dark Art but musically each of us have our own individuality…"
The Greek Metal scene has produced some truly classic albums throughout the years. However, DEAD CONGREGATION does not seem to incorporate an especially heavy portion of the Greek styles into its music. To what extent is DEAD CONGREGATION influenced by the legacy of Greek Metal?
"I am not a fan of the Greek scene with the exception of probably 3 recordings all in all. Heh. And the one and only classic album to ever come from Greece is "Thy Mighty Contract" if you ask me… Almost everything else was futile attempts to replicate that."
Can you describe the current Metal scene in Greece? How supportive are the underground Greek maniacs in your area for the particular style of Death Metal played by DEAD CONGREGATION?
"It depends on how you see it. We seem to get praise and support by a lot of people but if we do a gig on a day that there’s an ‘important’ football match on the TV, half of them will not show up, you know? Everything is rather superficial and there’s a lot of envy and malicious talk behind your back. I was at this gig the other day, 2 really good bands were playing and there were only about 40 people in the audience. The Greek scene is fucking pathetic in its majority! (I’m sure that everyone will say the same thing about his own country, heh)."
Which eras and scenes would you say have left the deepest impression on the music of DEAD CONGREGATION?
"As said before, all eras and all scenes really… From Immolation to early Dark Funeral, from Arkhon Infaustus to Hate Eternal, from early Morbid Angel to late Morbid Angel, from Incantation to Funeral Mist, from Sadistic Intent to early Belphegor… It’s not a matter of the actual sound rather than the overall atmosphere and spirit. Actually our biggest external source of inspiration in the beginning was a great ‘zine from Sweden which is none other than Timo Ketola’s DAUTHUS issue #3. That zine just reeks of Blasphemy and Death, very much like how any Death Metal recording should sound."
Here in the U.S. we live in a society with relatively little collective history from which to draw inspiration due to the fact that our nation is relatively young. In Greece, however, I imagine that one is constantly reminded of the omnipresent influence of Hellenic culture and tradition. This historical background seems to have left its mark on much of the Greek Metal that’s been released. Does this context have any influence on the creative approach adopted by DEAD CONGREGATION?
"The ancient Hellenic culture is present on almost every corner as a reminder to our great legacy. Personally, I am very fascinated by our history and try to absorb as much as I can with every opportunity I get – not only by reading but mostly by visiting as many archaeological sites and trying to vision how these great men once led their lives and accomplished so much. As interesting as Hellenic history and culture can be, I don’t see how it can have any influence on a Death Metal band, at least not a conscious one."
I can only imagine what an oppressive sound DEAD CONGREGATION must generate when performing live. In how many live desecrations have DEAD CONGREGATION participated? Can you describe these unholy episodes for those of us too far away to behold them in person?
"We don’t have a fancy stage show, we just plug in our instruments, unleash the fury and let our music do the talking. So far we’ve only played 6 times, with Antaeus, Watain, Kaamos (twice) and Corpus Mortale (twice). It is VERY important to us to play with bands that capture the true essence of this art so we’ve been very careful at selecting who we’ll share stage with. It’s not a matter of arrogance as it may appear but likeminded bands will most likely attract an audience that can understand what we’re about and that’s the only important thing for us. What’s the point in opening for Cannibal Corpse for instance when out of the 600 people who will come to the show, only 10 will truly feel our art under their skin, you know? We’re not in for the quantity but for the quality, heh."
On the 29th of March this year we’ll have the privilege of playing in Berlin with Asphyx, Drowned, Necrovation, Tribulation and Slugathor. A very impressive line-up, no doubt!
"We currently don’t have a permanent bass player so Konstantin (ex-Kaamos) is helping us with the bass on gigs. Since I personally know him quite well and he’s one of the few people who understand the essence of DEAD CONGREGATION, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse despite the obvious difficulties caused by living in different countries."
Please describe the three albums that have had the most significant impact on the music of DEAD CONGREGATION?
"In our early days it was the suffocating Darkness and sheer ferocity of albums like "Dawn Of Possession", "Failures For Gods", "Mortal Throne Of Nazarene" and "Diabolical Conquest" that inspired us. After a while we found inspiration from the inside, just rehearsing gave us fuel to strive for more Death Metal Darkness."
Are you influenced by any other genres of music unrelated to Metal?
Like your music, the imagery and artwork associated with your releases is unique and well-suited to accompany the sounds one is subjected to when listening to your recordings. How did you develop the visual aspect of the DEAD CONGREGATION releases?
"We strongly feel that artwork and music (and lyrics of course) all go hand in hand. One must know what to expect musically from a band with a simple glimpse on the album’s cover. We have been lucky enough to know Timo Ketola for a long time and we trust him blindly with the visual side of the band. I also had some photos that I felt would be appropriate to be used in our album and when the time came, Timo and I worked together on the general design of the album. We had very little time (only a week) to complete it because he had to focus on his studies at the time and at some point I felt like we were moving towards a half-arsed job but eventually we made some minor yet very important changes that resulted to what you see when you hold the CD booklet in your hands. Needless to say we are 100% satisfied by the result – it absolutely represents us as a band."
You are a label owner yourself and yet you chose to work with NWN! Productions for the release of your recent album. What prompted your association with NWN! Productions? How does your work as the owner and operator of Nuclear Winter Records affect your ability to work on your music with DEAD CONGREGATION?
"My label is of smallest caliber than what I wanted for DEAD CONGREGATION and basically I didn’t have the funds to release it myself the way I wanted and pay for all studio costs on my own. Of course I would recoup all that with the sales of the album but I just didn’t have all that cash up front. Apart from that, NWN! is a great label, dedicated to the underground and they also pay great attention to detail when it comes to the packaging of their releases. They showed absolutely no hesitation on meeting our demands, they are fast and reliable and above all they are fans of the music themselves. This is exactly what we were looking for in a label so the choice was not hard to make (even though I have to admit that we had offers from other labels with who we could totally relate as well). So far, NWN! has shown a tremendous degree of professionalism, we really can’t thank them enough. Running Nuclear Winter Records while having a regular job has turned out to be quite hard, there really is no free time left nowadays… However this does not affect DEAD CONGREGATION to any extent because the band is above everything. At the moment our drummer is doing his military service so we can’t rehearse very frequently, once he’s released we’ll be back on the regular pace and then we can focus on songwriting. We already have 3 songs completed but I don’t really feel like composing more if we can’t rehearse them soon. As said, my inspiration flows from the core of this band, it’s not very interesting to write songs and play them alone at home, heh."
Can you describe the writing and recording process utilized by DEAD CONGREGATION for "Graves Of The Archangels"? How did this process compare with the writing and recording of "Purifying Consecrated Ground"?
"Composing is the easy part. Songs are written by me and T.K. (the other guitarist) whenever we feel inspired to compose. We don’t like working on a song too much so if we feel the need to compose we pick up the guitar and then everything falls into place almost subconsciously, really. Each of us works individually and once a song is completed to the very last detail, we show it to each other and when the two of us have learnt the song we show it to the others and that’s it. After a song is composed, it takes us about an hour to play it all together at the rehearsal place and nail it in its final form… Recording is hell… The MLP went way smoother, recording and mixing "Graves Of The Archangels" turned out to be our worst nightmare. We used the same studio for both recordings but the last year the studio was about to close down so there was absolutely no interest from the engineers to do their part properly. We had to face a change of sound engineer after we (hastily) recorded the drums, working with two different engineers (one of which was incompetent and both of which lacked motivation to work with us) after that, technical fuck-ups all the time, big time gaps in between studio sessions etc etc. We had a hard time finding the proper sound when we recorded all instruments as the studio monitors where not exactly representative of how everything sounds on a regular stereo. So what sounded great at the studio, sounded like shit at home and vice versa. We had to take notes at home and make changes at the studio that didn’t sound really good – we were basically guessing how the final result would sound! This took many hours so then we couldn’t afford to spend much time in the mix and everything is mixed roughly with hardly any use of effects and equalization, heh. On top of that we got left with a huge bill in the end that made us furious. Don’t get me wrong, I am very satisfied with the sound we finally achieved but to get there we almost lost our sanity. It could have gone way smoother and certainly a lot faster."
Personally, I am continually drawn to the title track on the album ‘Graves Of The Archangels’ as well as the final track ‘Teeth Into Red’. Both of these songs demonstrate your ability to write perfectly smooth transitions between parts which may otherwise sound quite disparate. ‘Teeth Into Red’, in particular, moves seamlessly from crushing Death Metal to a series of riffs that could possibly have adorned one of the classic Swedish Black Metal albums. Indeed, these parts could be separate songs, but you bring them together to produce a single climactic result. Please elaborate on how you go about piecing these songs together to generate such powerful results.
"Again, I cannot really explain how we do it because everything evolves very naturally. I pick up the guitar and one riff leads to another, piecing a complete song together – to the very last detail! Sometimes a song may even become too complex so we have to remove riffs or rearrange it to make it simpler. Or for example, with ‘Subjugation’ I wrote that in about ten minutes – 4 consecutive riffs, none of which gets repeated again which results to a one-minute song. But it just felt complete at that point so I didn’t want to write more riffs for it, or repeat any of the ones I already had – it was like "wow, this is effective as it is, no need to work on it more". Sometimes we play or listen to our material and we’re like, "how the hell did we come up with that???". It’s so effortless that it’s surprising us too. I suppose it’s a ‘talent’ to put the right pieces (i.e. riffs) together, I don’t know, I don’t want to blow too much smoke up my own ass, haha. ‘Teeth Into Red’ specifically was based on ideas that our bassist had, I took 2 riffs that he wrote and went on from there. I have no idea how it evolved to this monster of utter Death Metal obscurity, it just did. Those last minutes of the song are certainly amongst my proudest achievements in this band… We never denied Black Metal influences in our sound, there is certainly a discreet dose of Black Metal riffing here and there which enhances the final suffocating atmosphere. However, I think that ‘Teeth Into Red’ is purely a Death Metal song, it’s just over the top dark."
Which songs stand out for you when you listen to "Graves Of The Archangels"?
"Haha, it’s like asking a mother which of her children is her favorite! If I had to pick ONE it would be ‘Martyrdoom’."
Can you discuss the lyrical content of DEAD CONGREGATION? How are these incantations conjured up and by whom? Are your lyrics influenced by any other philosophical or literary sources?
"Out of the band, it’s mostly T.K. (the other guitarist) who writes most of the lyrics usually although it just so happened that for the album I wrote most of them. Still, T.K. wrote ‘Teeth Into Red’ with which in a paragraph of 5-6 lines he epitomizes the definition of a DEATH Metal lyric! I can’t elaborate too much on my lyrics, it was thoughts that went through my head spontaneously while humming the music of the songs while being at work. I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote them on the spot. We’ve had lyrical contribution from other people too as before, not because of lack of inspiration but due to our faith in those persons in providing excellent lines that would emphasize the filth in our songs. So MkM of the mighty Antaeus wrote ‘Source Of Fire’ and Timo Ketola wrote ‘Voices’ and the title-track."
What lies ahead for DEAD CONGREGATION?
"More blasphemous Death Metal darkness, from us, for us – above all! We are currently working on new songs yet we have no idea what the next recording will be. I don’t feel like doing another album again, not just yet. It’s too early to tell though… Apart from the newly released album, we will also do a split 7"EP / MCD with Hatespawn (GER) with exclusive material from both bands and artwork again by Timo Ketola. This will be co-released by my label and Enucleation (www.enucleationrecords.com), who are also re-releasing "Purifying Consecrated Ground’ as a digipak MCD with filthier layout than before. Other than that we will do some gigs, selectively as always."
Please close this interview with any final words you may have….
"We’d like to thank you for this interview and Nuclear War Now! Productions for standing by us and proving that there are still strong bonds in the underground. As far as we are concerned, Death Metal IS underground – fuck wide acceptance."