Florida’s deathmachine MONSTROSITY has always been delivering top notch quality material with all of their releases, but business and line-up problems unfortunately constantly prevented them from gaining a similar status as fellow deathers CANNIBAL CORPSE, MORBID ANGEL, DEATH or OBITUARY. But things could finally change for the better now as Lee Harrison and his bunch managed to solve most of their problems and have most recently returned to the scene with a demo / live collection entitled "Enslaving The Masses". So reasons enough for us to hook up with the drummer once again to find out about the latest happenings in the MONSTROSITY camp…
It’s been a while by now since "In Dark Purity" came out, so what have you guys been up to ever since?
"Well, after the release of "In Dark Purity", we toured with DIMMU BORGIR here in the US and then did a headlining tour ourselves. We went to Germany to headline the "Fuck the Commerce Fest" and then came home and started working on "Enslaving The Masses". "Enslaving…" was released last spring and we did three months of touring here in the US and now we are hoping to get back in the studio and push out our 5th release for 2002. We still have a little fine tuning to do, but we’re almost there."
How did you actually manage to get off the rather controversial Metal Age label (who originally licensed "In Dark Purity" for Europe) so quickly again and when and how did Hammerheart exactly step into the picture?
"They breached the contract so many different ways but not providing a financial statement was the ultimate reason. Plus, as we later found out their reputation wasn’t exactly sterling. Well, at least we can say we had Sony distribution but that was all we had. However, I think they did saturate the market in Germany. Another major thing was the fact they rushed out a cheap version of "In Dark Purity" (no lyrics, no band info etc.). They were under a lot of pressure by Sony to release the album because they had already scheduled the release. So instead of waiting for the artwork and master CD from us, they took a laser print of the cover we had sent them (just to show them what it looked like) and they scanned it and fixed up the colors and took the CD we sent (again, just so they could hear what it sounded like) and pressed that and shipped it. Later, I think they pressed up a better version but they did a lot of damage with what appeared to be a bootleg version and a bad bootleg at that."
Did you negotiate with other European companies for a possible license deal as well?
"No, not really. We felt that Nuclear Blast was off on Power Metal and probably wouldn’t really promote "In Dark Purity" and here was a label with Sony distribution which we figured could do a good job of getting it in the stores."
Did you already notice any differences in terms of distribution, promotion or whatever, if you compare Hammerheart with your former business partners Nuclear Blast and Metal Age?
"We aren’t in Europe so it is pretty hard to judge. I think Metal Age saturated the German market with "In Dark Purity" and Hammerheart had that working against them but I must commend Hammerheart for doing what they did. Plus it gave the album a little longer shelf life which I think it deserved (same here! – Ed.). I also feel that Hammerheart may have been able to get it to other countries in Europe especially the Scandinavian countries. So that was cool."
What was the intention behind the release of your demo / live compilation "Enslaving The Masses", which just came out, and who came up with the basic idea for it?
"The basic intention was to hold people over until the next release to be quite honest. As you know, we don’t throw albums out every 12 months, but then we really try to give it our best so the people supporting our music won’t feel like they wasted their money. Plus it was a way for us to release the demos and preserve them since they had never been on CD before as well as letting people hear the "Imperial…" tracks with a better production You probably know we were never happy with the final mix." (yep! – Ed.)
Why did you end up with a double CD release, instead of just one CD, featuring all the demo tracks exclusively? Don’t you think it’s a bit risky to release a double CD these days from an economical point of view?
"It really doesn’t add that much to the overall cost plus it adds a little more to the package. It gives people something they haven’t heard before. It was our plan to release the demo stuff as one disc and we could’ve put the live album as a separate thing but it wasn’t our goal to do some kind of "cash in". I know other labels would’ve done it like that, but we aren’t interested in going for the quick buck It makes for a better package. Over here in the US we were sort of pushing a two for one price, but I don’t know what Hammerheart has done on price." (same thing… – Ed.)
Who’s idea was it to put live material on there as well and was it difficult for you to choose some good quality recordings?
"We planned it out. We didn’t just throw together some old soundboard tapes or something. We wanted something people could listen to instead of something that just collects dust in their CD racks. Whether we succeeded or not is up to the people themselves but ultimately that was our goal."
How much effort did you spend on those live recordings in the studio afterwards? I mean, quite frankly speaking, the crowd response doesn’t really sound completely real, as it sounds a little too loud in my opinion. So, did you turn up the volume in that department? Anything else you re-worked in the studio in order to come up with a better quality?!
"Again, our main concern was for people to get a good quality recording of our basic set we’ve been playing. We threw a few extra things here and there like the DBC cover (which most people probably didn’t notice ; -) – Ed.) just to make it unique. As far as the crowd you know we bring the volume down during the songs and bring it back in when necessary just cause it would be annoying to have it going all the time. We put several mics in the crowd and really tried to get a clear sound and mixed it in where you can hear it. The main thing we wanted to do was produce a killer sounding recording of our set and I think we did that."
I noticed that the line-up on those live tracks features two members, that haven’t been with you on "In Dark Purity" yet: Mike Poggione on bass and Patrick Hall on guitars. Is that the current MONSTROSITY line-up or have they just been filling in for live shows? What happened to Kelly Conlon?
"We are still cool with Kelly but he didn’t do any touring for the "In Dark Purity" release. Kelly moved back to New York so we got Mike playing bass now. As for Patrick he is not a permanent member and has been playing second guitar for the tours. Tony Norman is the main guitarist and he will be the guitarist on the next album."
Your line-up has been changed quite often ever since you originally started out and you remain the only original member by now. So, would you somehow consider MONSTROSITY as your band?!
"I’m the main member since I’ve always written the majority of the music and most of the lyrics. Plus it’s been me keeping it going financially and making the business moves. That’s not to say the other guys don’t have a say, but the reality is if I had left the business up to someone like George or Mark Van Erp (when they were still with the band) we wouldn’t be doing this interview today. Now pretty much Tony Norman is my right hand man just because he’s on a different level and he understands what it takes to do this. The other guys play a less active roll in MONSTROSITY’s business."
I also noticed that you were involved in the writing of all MONSTROSITY songs so far, mainly in the lyrical department, but also on the musical side of things. Usually the vocalist takes over the part of writing the lyrics. So, what is the reason that in your case it’s different?
"On the first two albums George only wrote lyrics for one song (‘Slaves And Masters’) and no one else really wrote lyrics. George didn’t mind, however, he’s just not that much of a lyric writer. For "In Dark Purity", Jason Avery wrote everything and then I kind of proof read everything and made subtle changes here and there. Now it’s more of a collaboration but I’m writing more now. After "Millennium" I’d kind of used up my ideas and needed time to re-energize my thoughts. With "Imperial Doom" all these ideas were pouring out and by the end of "Millennium" it was harder to come up with ideas. I don’t like to force ideas so its good I’ve had time to breathe so to speak."
And how about the music – I mean, do you play other instruments as well? I could imagine that it’s quite difficult to compose music on a drum kit exclusively, so…
"I’m a one man musical army… You never saw the HELLWITCH "Syzigeal Miscreancy" cartoon??? (laughing) (wasn’t that included in the album at the time?! If it was I did, but can’t recall details, I’m afraid… – Ed) Yes I can play guitar and bass to a certain degree. I do demos all the time where I’m playing everything and even singing but you’ll have to wait before you hear that!!!"
I read somewhere that you once had an offer to join Canada’s GORGUTS. Were you really interested to go for that? What exactly was that whole situation about? Would you have been a session member exclusively or a fulltime member of the band? Have there ever been other offers / jobs in that direction?
"I was asked by Luc to do a European tour years ago, but financially I wasn’t able to do it. The only other thing like that was before MONSTROSITY when Roger Patterson asked me to join ATHEIST because Steve Flynn was going back to college but Steve didn’t leave so I ended up forming MONSTROSITY with George and Mark Van Erp." (thanx Steve, hahaha! – Ed.)
Did you ever think about splitting up MONSTROSITY for one reason or another?
"There have been times when it seemed like that might be the best thing but ultimately we’ve had the best year in MONSTROSITY’s history. We did 80 shows on tour with some great crowds… 600 in Rimouski Canada, 500 in Texas, and other places were 300 or 400 people. Not all shows were promoted so they weren’t all like that but where a promoter really did his job the people showed up which was cool. We also have a six page interview in Metal Maniacs Mag (equivalent to your Rock Hard Mag I guess) hitting the streets right now and an interview in Pit Mag coming out in a few weeks. We’ll be doing six shows in Mexico in February and then a festival in Brazil with a couple of shows in Chile in March. So more tours, more press, better merchandise, better label situation,etc… so I’m glad I didn’t throw in the towel."
To get back to the "Enslaving The Masses" release – when it comes to the demo material on disc one, I was already aware of the 1994 "Slaves And Masters" and 1990 "Horror Infinity" demos, but what about those five songs that you recorded in the summer of 1991? Was that some kind of a pre-production tape for the "Imperial Doom" album or is it just different mixes from the actual album recordings?
"Those are the original mixes for "Imperial…". Nuclear Blast owns the copyright on sound for the album mix or I presume they filed for copyright so we didn’t want any problems with that. Anyway, they are kind of "the best of" "Imperial…" and since all the songs from "Horror Infinity" were going to be on it we left off those songs."
The cover art for "Enslaving The Masses" is based on an older drawing, which you already used for the "Slaves And Masters" demo. Who came up with the idea to bring that up again and was Eric Johnson (who already did the "In Dark Purity" sleeve) your number one choice for that again?
"Yes, we liked what Eric did for "In Dark Purity" so we wanted him to do the next one. The drawing was used actually for both demos."
Why haven’t you included the original demo covers in the booklet as well, to complete the picture of your early days even more?
"Actually we did, it should be under the CD on the tray card." (yes the "Slaves And Masters" cover, but not the "Horror Infinity" one which you will find somewhere on this page as well… – Ed.)
There’s a visual connection between "In Dark Purity" and "Enslaving The Masses". Please tell us more about that and if you intend to use those demons regularly from now on (as some kinda trademark for the band or something)?
"What’s cool about "In Dark Purity" is on the section where the church door is you can see the flames and scorched earth type of scenery going on outside. So when Eric did the "Enslaving…" cover it had that same landscape thing going on so he put the "In Dark Purity" church in the background and had the same type of winged demons flying out of it. Like it could all be happening at the same time. You really have to have both covers in your hand to really notice it. As for the next CD we don’t know yet…I thought it was kind of ironic that the "Enslaving…" cover resembles the whole World Trade Center episode. What else was strange is that there were internet hoaxes of pictures of the devil’s face in the smoke. I was worried people might make a big deal about it like we did it to cash in on the tragedy but as you know I had that concept back in 91 so there is no honest connection."
In your early days there’s also been two MONSTROSITY 7" EP’s… Unfortunately I can’t exactly recall the material that was featured on them, but wouldn’t it have been a good idea to also feature them on this compilation?
"Its all on there. The "Burden Of Evil" 7" had of course ‘Burden Of Evil’ with ‘Immense Malignancy’ and the "Darkest Dream" 7" was the album version of ‘Darkest Dream’ with the demo version of ‘Horror Infinity’ so there really wasn’t anything different. Everything is on "Enslaving…" from the early days."
Any particular reasons why you went for the individual titles "Crave The Blood" and "Stages Of Decay" for both the CD’s?
"That is what they would have been called had they been released separately."
Even though MONSTROSITY always had a loyal following and a very good reputation in the Death Metal underground, you are still struggling quite a bit and haven’t managed to gain a similar success as many of the other bands who started out at the same time as you did. So, would you say that all that simply happened because of all the label and line-up trouble or are you maybe to blame in other departments as well?
"Yes, definitely we have had more than our share of label problems and it certainly hasn’t helped things and while we were busy dealing with the labels (none seemed to want to pay any royalties) it took up a lot of time we could have spent writing the next album. But if you sell 30-40,000 records for a label why shouldn’t you be paid royalties?"
Talking of labels – what has changed for you ever since the origin of Conquest Music? A lot of musicians don’t really like the business side of things, so how about you? Do you feel comfortable in doing both, the band and a label?
"Its not the greatest thing because I’ve learned just how shady this business is but that is a good thing and I can be careful and know what to look for. Its a very brutal business and I can only imagine on a bigger scale how bad it could be. What is really cool is now the label has national distribution and that is nearly impossible to get over here. I have some good people at the label helping out so all that helps."
By the way, what was the reason for you not to work with DIABOLIC any longer?
"Basically, they breached their contract with us. They’ll tell you that we missed the deadline for picking up their option (you will probably read more about that here from DIABOLIC’s side soon! – Ed.) but when a band breaches their contract, then the timelines etc. aren’t effective in the contract. I am beginning to sound like a label owner, aren’t I? (haha, yes indeed! – Ed.) Anyway, it is all in our attorney’s hands at the moment."
I suppose you already have written a bunch of new songs in the meantime, so when can we expect a brand new MONSTROSITY release and are there already any details you can reveal about it?
"We don’t have a title for the album but I can tell you its gonna be sick!!! Some working song titles are ‘Visions Of Violence’, ‘From Wrath To Ruin’, and ‘Chemical Reaction’. I don’t want to give too much more away other than its gonna crush "In Dark Purity"!"
Anything else we might have forgotten to mention?
"No, I think we covered pretty much everything and my answers are limited to 25 (laughing) except to say once again thanks a lot for the interview. Really appreciate the support all these years and take care."
Interview & all vintage live pics: Frank Stöver