There are bands that once made a brilliant record which unfortunately only a rather selected audience is familiar with. “Spectrum Of Death” – the grandiose debut of the American Death / Thrash Metal band MORBID SAINT – is such a record and one of the most exciting, energetic and aggressive Death / Thrash Metal albums ever released. The album lasts for only about half an hour, but that is already enough to turn your living room into shreds. I had been thinking about the idea of putting MORBID SAINT in the spotlight for quite some time. And I was therefore very pleased when I got in touch with guitar player Jay Visser for a very interesting conversation about the origin of the band, their legendary debut and even their future plans.
According to Metal Archives MORBID SAINT was formed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1982. How do you look back nowadays at the first years as a band? Would you say that it was hard to find decent bandmembers as well as your own sound back then?
“It was a very different time back then. Not only the scene was different but the music and the equipment as well. Coming from Sheboygan in the early eighties – a rather small city with about 50.000 people – Heavy Metal wasn’t very popular to say the least. To find like-minded musicians who were also into Metal and capable of playing it was nearly impossible. It’s interesting to see how much incorrect information there is out there about MORBID SAINT. Because the 1st of November 1984 was the first time that Jim Fergades (guitar), Lee Reynolds (drums), Mike Chapa (bass / vocals) and me on guitar got together to jam. We were just a group of kids that would eventually become MORBID SAINT. We were all pretty new to playing our instruments – maybe a couple of years each – which I believe worked in our favour because we progressed and grew together. We played songs from bands that we were listening to and influenced by including JUDAS PRIEST, MÖTLEY CRÜE, IRON MAIDEN, BLACK SABBATH, METALLICA and SLAYER just to name a few. We didn’t start writing own songs until 1985. We didn’t have good equipment since we were all kids and didn’t have jobs. I think we ran one of the guitar amplifiers clean with a pedal for distortion, split the input and put a microphone for the vocals into it too. The drums were just a mess consisting of bits and pieces of other kits. I think we made cymbal and tom stands out of clothing racks and miscellaneous bits of metal pipes and rods and held it all together with duct-tape (laughs). So it was nice when we finally did get decent gear which was shortly before recording “Lock Up Your Children”.”
In 1988, you released the demo “Lock Up Your Children” which is basically the same release as your debut “Spectrum Of Death” which was released in 1990. All the songs which ended up on your debut must have been pretty known already in the underground scene by the time the album was released, no?
“There is indeed absolutely no difference between “Lock Up Your Children” and “Spectrum Of Death” except for the title and the artwork. We just felt that when we got signed, the title “Spectrum Of Death” fit better than “Lock Up Your Children”. We thought it was more professional. At that time there was no internet. So pretty much any form of communication was done by phone (the old land-line phones) or mail which took forever. So we really didn’t get too much feedback from the underground scene to be honest. We did receive mail occasionally from people here and there who had received our tape through the tape-trading circles. But that was it. We were never set or thought about world domination. We were just a bunch of kids, getting together and having fun making noise in my basement (laughs).”
What do you still remember of the recordings of “Spectrum Of Death”? Would you say that everything went smooth in the studio?
“We entered the studio not knowing anything about recording in a studio. And we had parted ways with our singer just two weeks before we recorded “Spectrum Of Death”. So all things considered, everything went pretty well. We recorded the drums and both the rhythm guitar tracks live and – with the exception of two songs – laid down the songs on the first take. We just set up our equipment and played. The other two songs were recorded on the second take. So all the songs were tracked very quickly. All we had left to do were the solos, the bass parts and the vocals which took a bit longer because Pat Lind had only been with us for two weeks.”
I would compare “Spectrum Of Death” musically most of all to old KREATOR and old SADUS. Were they bands that you looked up to back then?
“I think we were definitely influenced by the bands we were listening to back then. KREATOR was one of them, but also SLAYER, METALLICA, WHIPLASH, NUCLEAR ASSAULT, EXODUS, ANTHRAX, DEATH and TESTAMENT.”
The song ‘Damien’ is clearly inspired by the movie “The Omen”. Would you say that you were all big fans of horror back then? How do you judge the lyrics of the songs on “Spectrum Of Death” nowadays?
“Oh yes, absolutely! Many of the horror movies of the eighties became instant classics. It seems like the whole horror genre of the eighties coincided with the development of extreme Metal at that time. Looking back, many of the lyrics on “Spectrum Of Death” seem juvenile, and simplistic. But then again, we were all still pretty young back then and we never thought too much about it. We were just having fun (laughs).”
“Spectrum Of Death” was produced by Eric Greif. What kind of influence would you say did he have in the recordings of the album as well as your career?
“MORBID SAINT owes everything to Eric Greif! I can’t even begin to express what he has done for us. He was the reason we got to record “Spectrum Of Death” in the studio that we did. He produced it and helped us getting signed. He also helped us in getting the deal with Relapse in 2011 for the re-release of “Spectrum Of Death” on vinyl as well as the deal with Century Media for the re-release in 2016.”
Did John Kujawa, who created the legendary cover of “Spectrum Of Death”, do anything else for other bands? What kind of hints did you give him in order to create the artwork?
“We only met John a few times when he did the artwork for “Spectrum Of Death”. I think he may have been doing other artwork for some of the bands Eric worked with but I’m not 100% sure. We were going for a more demonic figure with the souls of people swirling around him… kind of like a demonic reaper collecting the souls of the dead. That kind of thing. And instead it turned out like an IRON MAIDEN rip-off which actually didn’t end up too bad either (laughs).”
Are you still in contact with John?
“No, not at all.”
Many people regard “Spectrum Of Death” as one of the most underrated extreme Metal albums ever. What’s the main reason for this do you think?
“I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s because we recorded the album basically live? There’s no click-track. It’s just us playing. I guess people like the raw sound and the aggression. I think the modern recording process with click-tracks, time aligning, editing and all that has made music stale and lifeless. There’s no swing to the timing. It’s all perfectly done and on the beat and never ahead or behind of the beat.”
“Spectrum Of Death” was originally released by Avanzada Metalica, a Mexican label. I still find it so hard to believe that no record company was interested in releasing that album back in the days. I mean, you can easily hear that it’s an incredible record from the moment you hear it.
“Well, the labels certainly were not knocking down our door (laughs). Things were very different for us back then compared to nowadays. After getting our copies of “Spectrum Of Death” from Avanzada, we couldn’t even give them away for free. There was absolutely no interest at all. When the ‘Ultimate Revenge’ tour was passing in Milwaukee, we played with DEATH and DARK ANGEL and some guys from Combat Records flew over to check us out. But the first thing they said to us after we played was ‘Look guys, we don’t like your name.’. And they continued with several things they didn’t like about us. So we kind of got the idea that they were not really interested in us (laughs).”
“Spectrum Of Death” was been re-released through all kinds of labels throughout the years. Can you still keep track yourself what’s genuine / official and what’s not?
“The bootlegs are sometimes so good that it’s hard to tell. And like you said, there’s so much out there. But it’s interesting. I look on eBay every once and a while and some of the bootleg merchandise on there is pretty cool. I sometimes want to order stuff myself or contact the seller and try to get a deal on it (laughs). I don’t have that much problems with bootlegs in general. Just the fact that people are still making bootlegs of your band means that people are still interested. And I think that’s pretty cool.”
When you look at posters from old club gigs, it seems like you shared the stage with DR. SHRINKER pretty regularly back then. Would you say that you were good friends with each other?
“Yes, but we were rather good friends with all of the bands from Milwaukee we used to play with. We played quite often with DR. SHRINKER but also with MORTA SKULD, REALM, ACROPHET, VIOGRESSION and DECEASED. We always had a good time.”
Back in 1992, you recorded a second album – “Destruction System” – which got released officially in 2015. The fanatic rage of your debut was gone and the tempo got also more mid-paced. How do you judge that album nowadays?
“I think “Destruction System” was a lot more intricate, complex and more grown-up than “Spectrum Of Death”. We made a very conscious decision to slow things down a bit. Because one of the complaints we got was that all we did was play full speed all the time. As an album, “Destruction System” might not be as aggressive as “Spectrum Of Death”. But many of the guitar parts on “Destruction System” are faster and far more intense than on “Spectrum Of Death”.”
MORBID SAINT played their final show in December 1993. Why did you decide to put an end to the band back then?
“It was at a time in our lives where some of us were starting careers, started to have families or were just looking to do something different. The music scene had changed and the amount shows and general interest in MORBID SAINT was becoming less and less. We all just kind of decided it was time to move on. We were no longer kids, we were all growing up. It was just the right time.”
In 2010, you decided to revive the band. You’re the only one left from the original line-up. Were the others not that interested?
“In 2010, I was at a point in my life where my family was ok with me dedicating time to do this. It was a totally different situation compared to when I was younger and had no own family to take care of and not a decent job, career or responsibilities. When the opportunity to resurrect MORBID SAINT appeared, Jim Fergades and Lee Reynolds were fully involved with their careers. Pat Lind did return for a few years but stepped down later on.”
I can’t remember that you ever played in Europe back in the days. Was your appearance at the festival Keep It True in 2013 your first gig in Europe?
“It was. Looking back, it seemed like everything ended just when things started to happen for us. That’s why I also appreciate it so much now. Because you never know when it will be over. And I’m not getting any younger.”
Cliff Wagner is handling the vocals since 2016. What happened to Pat Lind and why did he take a step back?
“I can’t speak for Pat but my intent in returning in 2010 was not just to play shows in support of an album which was over twenty years old. I understand that many people have discovered or have heard “Spectrum Of Death” rather recently for the first time and would like to see MORBID SAINT play the album live. But I also want to write and record new MORBID SAINT songs. I just never thought it would take this long (laughs).”
There’s been talk of a new album for already a really long time. When you played at the festival Fall Of Summer in France in 2016, you played a new song called ‘Daku’. Can you give us an update regarding the new album?
“Yes, ‘Daku’ is one of the new MORBID SAINT songs we’ve been playing live. Right now, we have eight songs finished for a new album. And we’d like to add at least one more. For me, these new songs are the most intense and physically demanding songs I have ever played. But maybe I’m just getting old (laughs). I’d rather not mention a specific date when the album will be released until we are actually in the studio. But my hope and intention is that we will enter the studio somewhere later this year because this release has been put off far to long.”