An interview with Peru’s legendary Death Metallers MORTEM was planned for quite some time, but for various reasons (beyond our control) it unfortunately never turned into reality. But when we hooked up with guitarist / vocalist Fernán “Nebiros” López via Facebook last year things finally started to take shape. Fernán, who turned out to be a really nice guy, agreed on an in-depth roller coaster ride through MORTEM’s long lasting career right away and little by little answered all our questions with a lot of dedication and knowledge about the Metal underground. The timing for the release of this interview couldn’t be any better since MORTEM just returned to the scene with a brand new album entitled "Deinós Nekrómantis" via Iron Pegasus Records, which even made it to the pole position of our “Best Of 2016” readers poll! So, we hope you’ll enjoy this big feature as much as you like the band’s new album!
Hi Fernán! How are you there? Let’s start from the very beginning – do you remember the first Metal recording that you enjoyed, the first (both local and foreign) concerts that you attended and what made you realize that you want to play music yourself?
"Unholy greetings from Peruvian Gerontocratic Deathsters! I’m pretty excited to answer questions from the mighty Voices From The Darkside staff! Well, I have to say the first Metal record per se that I listened to was the first IRON MAIDEN album, which I listened to when I was in High School. I got to listen to it some time later after it came out, though, because this kind of music wasn’t easy to get a hold of in Peru back then. Before that album, I had listened to KISS, JUDAS PRIEST and BLACK SABBATH, of course, but IRON MAIDEN was the one that really got me into the Heavy Metal sound. After that, I was lucky enough to get into underground Metal bands that you wouldn’t listen to in the radio. As for the local scene, the first local Heavy Metal bands that I knew about and got to see were ORGUS and ALMAS INMORTALES. But it was only a few years later that I started writing songs with my brother, Amduscias and playing live. We realized we wanted to play more extreme Metal and the underground provided us with many more influences in the forms of more extreme bands. I should also mention that in the eighties there were absolutely no Metal shows or labels in Peru, So I didn’t get to see any foreign band live back in the day. We would get together with my friends and watch the shows on Betamax or VHS tapes."
MORTEM started as a duo, by your brother Alvaro and yourself. Was it because it was hard to find like-minded people in your area to have a full line-up with, or because you just wanted to jam together?
"It was definitely because we couldn’t find any other suitable members for a band back then. Back then, I played the guitar and bass, and my brother, Amduscias, played the drums and did the vocals. We tried a few of our friends in our neighborhood for the band but in the end, we ended up as a duo. We would go to this rehearsal place called “Sifuentes”, one of the very few ones that were available back then. They had very shitty instruments and the sound was horrible. I imagine it must be hard for someone from a different country to realize what the situation was for bands who started playing back in the eighties in Peru. I guess because musical instruments were very expensive, not too many people owned electric guitars, a decent drum kit or any equipment back then, not even at rehearsal places. It was extremely hard to get decent equipment at the music shops, and the few items that were OK, were extremely scarce and expensive."
What led you to decide to complete the line-up and start playing live?
"It all started when we got in touch with other members from local bands that played as extremely as we did. The first band we got in touch with was HADEZ, back in 1987. They were the one who got us in touch with many other maniacs and a few bands. We went to a few shows together. By that time, my brother and I had already recorded a 5 track rehearsal (with lyrics in Spanish, we called it “Historias De La Cripta”) and we passed it around and some of the show promoters showed interest in our music. However, we were still a duo. So, by early 1988, we finally found some members to complete our line-up and made a few changes: my brother would still do the vocals but would play the bass, I would play the guitar with another friend and we got a new drummer. We played our first show that same year (1988). The show was called ‘Ataque Metal’, an event which now has become a part of Peru’s Metal history!"
Could you please tell us about that "Historias De La Cripta" rehearsal demo from 1987, which was made even before the "Evil Dead" demo? Since it wasn’t featured in the "Demonolatry" compilation from 2016, I assume that there are no plans to publish this recording again. Why? And do you still have a copy of it yourself?
"Unfortunately, the “Historias De La Cripta” rehearsal recording is lost. Only a very few people got to listen to it back in the day. But, trust me, they didn’t miss much. We didn’t pass it around very much because we weren’t very satisfied with it. Due to the harsh conditions in which it was recorded and the terrible quality of the equipment, it wasn’t very fun to listen to. The only good thing about it was probably the fact that the few people who listened to it compared the vocals to Max Cavalera’s in “Morbid Visions”. But, besides that, it was pretty much unlistenable. There are few other recordings from our pre "Evil Dead" demo era which we are not very fond of either. I still remember those times. Back then, Amduscias and I used to cover ‘Dethroned Emperor’, ‘Sepulchral Voice’ and ‘Proselytism Real’. By the way, some bootleggers have released a live recording and a rehearsal bootleg EP with old tracks. We still have to get a copy of those (!). We did record 2 songs with lyrics in Spanish at a rehearsal place in 1988: ‘Muerte Diabólica’ and ‘Ritos Mutilatorios’. To my surprise, these songs haven’t been “bootlegged” yet. We don’t have a copy of the original recording but I know of a few people who have it. Maybe one day this material will see the light of day."
You used to call MORTEM’s style Black Metal. At what point did you realize that people expect to hear something different from what you play, once they hear the term Black Metal?
"Since we started back in the eighties, we had always used the term Black Metal to refer to the lyrical aspect of our music. Back then, the music of VENOM (of course!), MERCYFUL FATE,HELLHAMMER, CELTIC FROST, SODOM and even SLAYER, among others, was labeled by some as Black Metal. So, in the beginning, we were convinced that Black Metal was “the game” we wanted to “play” (insert SODOM’s ‘Blasphemer’ reference here!). It was in the nineties when we definitely realized that the term Black Metal had been redefined by the Scandinavians. So, we realized that this term didn’t suit our music anymore and we stopped using it. We went back and borrowed the next good thing, the term Death Metal, which had already been used by POSSESSED, of course, and by some 80s compilations that I remember of."
The band has had innumerable line-up changes… yet, it seems the sound and identity has remained the same. Are you and Alvaro the ones responsible of keeping MORTEM’s style unadulterated and honest to its roots?
"Yes, MORTEM has always been the product of our (Amduscias and I) minds. I guess you could call MORTEM a sort of a personal project for us. We respect the other members in the band very much, but after all these years they understand that this project has to do with the two brothers, heh-heh. So we are the ones who kind of dictate the rules of our music. Some people have criticized us a little bit for this reason, but we cannot help it: we are tyrants in our own domain!"
MORTEM is one of the oldest standing acts and for all those years you have faithfully followed the "ancient" tradition of old SLAYER, POSSESSED, MORBID ANGEL, etc. These days there is an unmistakable MORTEM sound which pays tribute to the old masters, yet sounds very distinct. How restrictive do you find that? I mean it in the sense of coming up with such great songs. For some bands it is really hard to come up with new material that sounds fresh, yet loyal to the roots. How difficult is it to write material within such a solid context?
"Well, thanks for your words! I think for us it is not difficult at all to come up with this music because our sound simply reflects the influences we have had since our very beginning. We don’t try hard to sound “old school”, in fact, this is a term that I have come to dislike because too many bands try too hard to rely on it. We just play the music we like, the way we originally conceived it to be. We are aware that our sound is not 100% original, but we are no rip offs. We do not sound exactly like any of the bands that influenced our sound neither has that been our main goal ever. On the other hand, I have heard some ‘tribute’ bands that mimic the sound of old bands and the result is not very good. It sounds like they’re just trying to cash in on the ancient bands’ popularity among the Metalheads. However, these bands may copy the riffs but they lack the spirit. As for us, we just let the spirit flow. Our goal has never been to sound like a band that is frozen in time. We started in the late eighties but I do believe we have incorporated a big deal of the 90s sound into our music. And this has always been an unconscious process, nothing has been done on purpose."
Why did the band split between 1988 and 1989?
"It was a tough decision but our live line-up just wasn’t working. It was a time of big frustration in the band, so we decided to call it quits, even though it was for a very short time. Amduscias and I thought it was time to move on and record a demo, but he wasn’t satisfied being a bass player, so he wanted to return to the drums. He felt that it would be easier and faster to practice and record the new songs that we came up with if he would play the drums and I would play the guitar, the way it was originally meant to be. So we came back with a vengeance at the beginning of the next year, we changed the lyrics of the songs into English and we recorded the “Evil Dead” demo."
Your debut full length, "Demon Tales",came out in 1995, 7 years after the debut demo tape "Evil Dead". Why did it take that long for the band to release their debut LP?
"OK, so, this is a question that takes a little bit longer to answer. I have already mentioned in a previous answer that it’d be hard for someone from Europe or the United States to understand the way things were back in the day for Metal bands in Peru. To give you an idea of how things were back then, I’ll point out a few facts: back then, there were absolutely no Metal labels or shows or producers that supported the Peruvian scene. In fact, there were only a very few handful of fanzines. Only a very few of us would keep in touch with the outside world through tape trading. No foreign Metal band had ever come to play to Peru. No foreign labels seemed to show interest in Peru. It was like we didn’t exist on the map. There was absolutely no support for any band playing this kind of music. We were on our own. It wasn’t until 1993 that the first Peruvian Metal band released a CD, our friends in HADEZ, who had started about around the same time that we had. The CD was released on a local label. But this label that released their album went broke right after this first release (!) 2 years later we recorded our first album and the next year, we actually became the first Peruvian band ever to be signed outside of Peru! This was unprecedented: no other Metal band, commercial or not, had ever put out an album before HADEZ and us! So, now, you get a picture of the situation back then and the answer to your question becomes a bit obvious."
The period between 1995 and 2005 saw the band releasing 4 albums back to back. Why was this the most prolific time for the band?
"It was definitely easier for the band when all the members lived in Peru. After some of us immigrated overseas, it became more difficult to put out albums, due to the fact that we couldn’t get together to play very often. We would always write songs but they would remain as projects since we didn’t practice them together or played them live. Unfortunately, it has been like that since then. It’s become very difficult for the band to remain active. We’ve played a few shows every year, but most of the members of the group have families, which brings responsibilities and in turn makes it even harder to keep up. We don’t want to give up, we don’t want to call it quits but putting out a recording is always a challenge for us."
You have opened for SLAYER in front of thousands of people and just a month or a few later toured the US and played even in such small venues that had no stage whatsoever. First of all – total respect for being ready to play a gig for the sake of playing a gig, no matter how tough the conditions might be – that’s the attitude! Did you feel comfortable on such a huge stage when you played with SLAYER? Does it sometimes feel frustrating to play in small venues after all these years, or would you say that as long as there are a few die hard fans who really enjoy the gig – it doesn’t matter how large the audience is?
"Playing in front of a big audience was quite an experience, but it didn’t mean the world to us. We don’t see it as a ‘big’ achievement in our career at all. SLAYER was one of our biggest influences, and probably the main band that got us into playing. But the show where we opened for them happened a little bit too late! We didn’t even enjoy their set list that night, heh-heh. Anyway, you got it right, it doesn’t matter how big or small the stage is as long as there are some Metal maniacs who want to listen to our demonic noise! We can’t play live as often as we’d like to due to our work schedule and other reasons (see previous answer), but when we do, we really appreciate the energy coming from the front row! For us it will never be frustrating to play in front of a small audience. It was never our goal to play for huge audiences anyways. We don’t worry about this at all, playing in MORTEM is not what we do for a living. Our music comes from the heart and the only reason we do this is because we enjoy it!"
And how was it to meet SLAYER when you played with them? Did they have a down to earth attitude when you talked to them?
"Yes, we met them and talked to them backstage. They were pretty down-to-earth, but like I said before, too much time (and too many bad albums) had passed since we hailed them as the band that inspired us to play. It hardly was the same band anymore. They only played one song (!) from my favourite album, the title track, ‘Hell Awaits’ that night. WTF? However, I’m not complaining, it was still a good experience!"
The vast majority of Death Metal bands that were formed in the 80s to early 90s haven’t proved to be half as consistent as MORTEM in terms of musical direction. You’ve all been in the game, in one way or another, for quite some years, how do you keep your music and ideas fresh, now when most music has been made twice, and how do you find new inspirations for your music? I think you are quite good at not losing the MORTEM touch, without sounding rehashed, as many bands usually do after many years, if they don’t change their style or sound during their evolution.
“Thanks! We still find inspiration coming from the same sources. I think the fact that we can still deliver the music we do lies in the way we conceived extreme Metal music in the first place. We understood from the beginning that this type of music was the one we wanted to play. We never saw it as a mere step in evolution towards a more “technical”, “melodic” or audible approach. In other words, we never “grew out of it”. When we first started, we were very limited musicians but as we got older and more experienced it still never crossed our minds to start playing a more “elaborated” kind of music. I understand this type of music may be somehow “limiting” to many people out there but if you see it this way, then unfortunately it means you never understood the rules of the game. Death Metal is a genre in its own right and there are certain rules you follow, by your own accord. If you don’t enjoy following these rules, then you’re better off playing a different type of music. Some bands like to push the limits a bit too much and they end up putting out pretentious crap! I think bands should make it clear what style of music they want to play. I also see a lot of bands in the scene that claim to play Death Metal but when you listen to them, their sound owes a lot more to the Scandinavian Black Metal style than to Real Death Metal, which is OK to me. However, if you consider DISSECTION rather than (early) ENTOMBED as your main influence, then you should warn listeners about this. For these bands, the riffs, the phrasing, the atmosphere has a lot more Black Metal influence than Death Metal influences.”
How do you work when writing new music, is the whole band gathered at rehearsal and then churns out new songs, or do you each show up with bits and pieces, and then assemble it along the way?
“It used to be at the rehearsals but nowadays, it is usually the second way, due to the constraints mentioned previously. We come up with riffs and build a song and then we present it to the band. I really would like to be more productive during the rehearsals, it really helps arranging songs in a better way. It is definitely the best process to write songs, but unfortunately it is a luxury we cannot longer afford. It used to be like that when we started as a band. I miss those times!”
It took you 11 years to complete and release your new album "Deinós Nekrómantis"… Some pictures and video footage of the recording process were published 2 or even 3 years ago already. What is the reason for such a delay and how satisfied to you feel about the final result?
“Many factors are to blame for this long delay but it was mainly due to our responsibilities. The writing process takes longer but mainly the recording process takes forever. We work on a limited budget and we prefer to record mostly in our home land, Peru. We are aware that this is very unusual. Most of the members have families now, so this takes a lot of time. We also went through a process of discarding songs that didn’t make the cut. The result of the new album is OK, but since it has been so long we are ready to move on. We already have new songs in the making.”
Recording / mixing / mastering process aside – I’d also like to ask you how hard was the writing process itself this time around. Is it harder to come up with horror-fueled ideas for new lyrics as a 40+ years old adult who has children, or do you still feel as enthusiastic about such topics as you were in your teenage years?
"Good question! It’s definitely more challenging to come up with good, inspired lyrics for the songs now that we’re old fucks! Heh, heh. We grew up in a world that was quite different from what it is right now. For us, Metal and 80s horror movies went together hand in hand. We were always interested in the morbid and the occult. But aside from obvious research we did, we also read books on occultism, and enjoyed stories by H.P. Lovecraft,Edgar Allan Poe, and poetry by Charles Baudelaire, but we also watched a lot of horror movies. That was the perfect marriage for us: horror flicks and listening to Extreme Metal. The truth is, as is quite obvious, many 80s classic songs by SLAYER, DEATH, NECROPHAGIA, SACRIFICE. etc. were inspired by horror movies ("Evil Dead", "Re-Animator", and the likes), so to a certain point we simply followed that tradition. Some of our lyrics were inspired by horror movies, others by occultism books and a few by horror myths & legends. To answer your question, we’re still pretty much enthusiastic about these topics. Some lyrics on our new album are still based on horror movies from the eighties ("Phantasm", "Evil Dead"), but we’ve also started taking a different direction with other lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, all of the lyrics on "Deinós Nekrómantis" are still related to death, horror, demons, Satan and the undead, unfortunately for some this will never change. However, some of the lyrics are symbolic, allegory-like stories, to be precise. Some refer to historical characters and personalities that aren’t mentioned in the lyrics. In fact, we won’t even reveal who these characters are. People have to figure that out if they care. Obviously, since we are a band from Peru, we also write about spirits from the Andes, old myths and ancient beliefs. I think this will be the direction that our lyrics will take in the future."
Was Urbain Grandier’s mentioned in "Deinós Nekrómantis"?
"Not this time. Urban Grandier is one of our favourite historical characters of all time. We actually love the movie “The Devils” and the book by Aldous Huxley ("The Devils of Loudun"), and they both gave us inspiration for more than one of our songs in the past. Maybe he will show up in our lyrics in the future, you never know."
How come that the drums for the new album have been recorded in a completely different studio? Has Alvaro moved out of town or was it for some other reasons?
"It has to do with the fact that Amduscias lives in Arizona. So he records the drum tracks there, and then we complete the recording. Recording the drums is the hardest part for us because it’s always been a pain in the ass to get the right sound."
The album cover that you’ve used for "Deinós Nekrómantis" was created by the Dutch artist Jan van Eyck (1390 – 1441) and is a small part of his "Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych" painting. It has already been used more often in the past by Metal bands and among others by CIANIDE on their 1992 "The Dying Truth" debut full length. Have you been aware of that? Who came up with the idea to use it for MORTEM and do you care that you’re not the only band using it?
"We think the artwork is amazing but we are aware that it has been used by many other bands before us. We were supposed to use completely different artwork, but we couldn’t get a hold of this artwork with a high resolution, so the label didn’t use it. We searched for other options, but none of them suited our interests. We could have searched for more but it took longer and longer, so we decided we would use Van Eyck’s masterpiece instead. Our album was already very delayed. We would have loved to have original artwork that hadn’t been used by anybody but that would have delayed the album release even longer!"
"Deinós Nekrómantis" is great title, totally old styled and dark. Also it is in ancient Greek. Is there a certain reference behind it, or…?
"Thank you! Aside from being a great sounding title, it is “grammatically correct” Ancient Greek. Amduscias found both words in ancient texts and put them together. He has actually studied and taught Latin and Ancient Greek at a college level. Since he masters the Grammar of these dead languages, he always complains when he reads album titles that are very inaccurate and that actually don’t mean shit. For example, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” or “Illud Divinum Insanus” may sound cool (or not) but the Latin is completely wrong!"
Your father is a linguist, your ex wife is a Russian speaker. MORTEM’s lyrics have been written in Spanish, English and Latin. The lyrics of the song ‘The Devil Speaks In Tongues’ – I’m not even sure in which language, but it’s surely neither of the aforementioned. So how many languages do you know and which one is your favourite?
"A good follow-up to the previous question. Actually, Amduscias’s ex – wife was Russian, so he picked up a little bit of that language. I am learning how to speak Quechua (ancient language from the Andes, spoke by the Incas and other civilizations), but we used it in some of our songs like ‘Unquy Maman’ (literally ‘Mother Of Disease’), ‘Uma, Head Of The Witch’ and ‘Devil Speaks In Tongues’, of course. The latter song has the following verse in Quechua: Qallariyninmi kani (“I am the beginning”), Tukuyninpis kani (“I am the end”), Chiqantam nini (“The truth I say”), Supaypakaman chiyninta uyariy (“Take heed of the Devil’s commands”). We like to use many languages in our songs to make them more interesting, but we try to be accurate, if it’s not authentic, then we won’t use it. Latin is a favourite, but Amduscias is learning German now, so, he might use this language in future lyrics!"
Satanism and Occultism have been ongoing themes for MORTEM’s lyrics. Do any of the band members (past and present) dwell into this subject seriously as in following philosophical or Left Hand Path lines of thought?
"No. We have always been occult aficionados and enthusiasts but it doesn’t go beyond that. Obviously one of the reasons why we listen to Death Metal is our fascination with the occult. This is how we conceive extreme Metal: with occult lyrics. But we don’t think one necessarily has to be involved in Satanism ‘praxis’ in order to play Death Metal. As a matter of fact, when you realize where many of these so-called true satanic bands get their inspiration from, it’s hard to take them seriously. For example, most American bands were inspired by the spurious (bogus) “Necronomicon” book, which was never a part of any known culture. We all know it was part of the Cthulhu mythos invented by Lovecraft. On the other hand, many “Black Metal” bands got their inspiration from an author like H.R. Tolkien (i.e. BURZUM) who was many things but definitely not a Satanist!"
You’ve been working with German labels for a good while, first Merciless and now Iron Pegasus. How did it start with Merciless and how did you end up on Iron Pegasus afterwards? I guess they are doing a quite good job, since you’ve been sticking around?
"I got in touch with Merciless Records through tape trading back in the nineties. It used to be a distro label back then. Volker from Merciless Records was interested in listening to our demos. Later when it became a label (I believe they had 2 or 3 releases, UNGOD, DESASTER and another band), We had just released our debut album on a Peruvian label, which had done a terrible job. He was interested in doing a re-issue, and we did. We also signed for two more albums. Then, in 2003 and 2004 we did a few shows in Europe, and we met Costa from Iron Pegasus Records in person. We talked about MORTEM and his label and that is how we ended up on Iron Pegasus Records. We’re still in touch with both labels. As matter of fact, Merciless Records has just re-issued our debut album “Demon Tales”. Iron Pegasus Records has released many great bands (SADISTIC INTENT and PENTACLE, to name a few) and we are happy to be a part of it. Yes, we think they’ve done the best they could. We like to work with underground labels because there is no pressure at all."
Iron Pegasus Records is definitely one of the best remaining cult labels. Your 2005 album "De Natura Deamonum" was already released by Iron Pegasus and you chose to release your latest album, 2016’s "Deinós Nekromantis" with them again. Do you feel an affinity with the remaining bands of the label? Iron Pegasus is not "Death Metal only", yet it seems that Costa still has the best underground Death Metal bands (PENTACLE, MORTEM, SADISTIC INTENT, AFTER DEATH, etc.). Do you feel close to the longevity of the label’s "conservative" philosophy, rather than most "Death Metal specialist" labels that appeared during recent years?
"Of course, Iron Pegasus Records is definitely the right label for us! Ideologically, we agree 100% with Costa. Furthermore, he is a very nice guy to work with. like I said, very understanding and easy going. There is a lot of affinity with the other bands on this label! We are honoured to be a part of such a ‘Slay Team’!!!"
In between the last two MORTEM full length albums, you released the "Devoted To Evil" EP and the split with PENTACLE, it was ‘Liquefied Blood Of The Saints’ that was on that split, a track also featured on the new album… which leads me to my question, do you have more music written? I guess you’ve been writing more than an album worth of music in the 11 years?
"Yes, we do have more songs written, some of the (tentative) titles are: ‘Worse Than Death’, ‘Summon Back The Fire Witch’ and ‘And Then Came Death’. These will have to be a part of a future release. Only Satan knows when these tracks will see the light of day (or the dark of night), heh-heh. As I have explained before it is not easy for us to record the songs in a studio. We definitely want to record them but we are aware of our limitations. Among other plans, we also wanted to record a tribute song to one of our favourite bands that are active: Brazil’s HEADHUNTER DC! However, so far we only have the intentions to do it, who knows if this will become true!"
It is quite a busy year for you release-wise, your new magnum-opus "Deinós Nekrómantis" has finally been released and you’ve had a quite nice demo anthology together with 4 tracks from the "Devoted To Evil" EP via Veins Full Of Wrath Records… First of all, why only the 4 tracks, and not all 6? And how has people been reacting on two quite killer MORTEM releases, after some silence?
"Amduscias made the deal with Veins Full Of Wrath and he tells me that they only included 4 tracks from “Devoted To Evil” because of the length. Personally, I wasn’t very interested in releasing the demo material since the sound sucks (I can’t listen to it!). Especially our late 80s / early 90s demos, some of which were recorded in a Tascam home tape recorder (!) . But I understand that some fans wanted to listen to this earlier stuff, so it’s OK and I appreciate the release by Veins Full Of Wrath Records, on our 30th anniversary as a band (!). The response has been quite good so far. I guess releasing both CDs the same year shows our band’s evolution. Playing in the same band for 30 years is quite a challenge when it comes to developing your own style of music and ignoring trends. As musicians, we get influenced by everything that surrounds us, so we really need to purge all the “excess baggage” to keep our sound pure and simple. We don’t always do this intentionally, but sometimes it is necessary. Anything that doesn’t sound like MORTEM, we’ll just discard it!"
What’s your opinion about the MORTEM tribute compilation "Death Rules Supreme"? Which cover is your favorite?
"We were honoured by such a release. We weren’t really expecting it! So, we’re grateful to all the bands that participated in it and the label that released it. ‘Summoned To Hell’ by HEADHUNTER DC is our favorite. I believe they played it better than the original! Zachariah from KRATORNAS also did a very sick job on ‘The Devils Speaks In Tongues’ but in this case the cover doesn’t sound like the original, the song was taken to an extreme level! Hail Satan!"
And what’s your opinion regarding the Israeli KEVER’s cover of ‘Daemonium Vobiscum’?
"I’ve just heard this version on Youtube, it’s sick! We had no idea anybody in Tel Aviv was listening to our music! We are honoured!"
You already covered songs from Canada’s SACRIFICE twice on your releases: ‘Turn In Your Grave’ for the "The Devil Speaks In Tongues" 1998 album and ‘Afterlife’ for the "Devoted To Evil" 2006 EP. What makes these guys so special to you, considering that they are pure Thrash Metal, while MORTEM is definitely more a pure Death Metal act?
“We worship Canada’s SACRIFICE. It is one of the first bands that inspired us to play the music we play. “Torment In Fire” blew our brains back in 1986. There was something about that album that denied all control. For us it is a synonym of pure savagery. We always wanted to pay homage to this great band. As for your question, we should take into account the fact that back in the day the genre’s borderlines weren’t set in stone and the limits were blurry. When it comes to labels, most people will agree that SACRIFICE is a Thrash band nowadays, however, their first album has Death Metal “energy”: the lyrics are dark, the music is brutal. To me, it is clear that, back in the day, bands like TESTAMENT or ANTHRAX had a sound that relates more to what is considered Thrash nowadays. But if you compare their albums to what SACRIFICE was doing… it was definitely something different. As cliché as it may sound, I only like their first two albums. They took a long break after “Forward To Termination” and they became a lot more conventional after it. Needless to say, we are big fans of Canadian Metal: SLAUGHTER, RAZOR, INFERNÄL MÄJESTY, OBLIVION (demos), etc. are among our favourite bands of all time. Once again, back in the day the borders or the limits for each genre hadn’t been well defined. We are definitely among the people who believe that albums like “Hell Awaits” or “Darkness Descends” or “Torment In Fire” have a lot more to do with Death Metal than Thrash.”
You are also going to participate in the upcoming VENOM tribute of Iron Pegasus with the cover of ‘Satanachist’ (also included in "Deinós Nekrómantis"). What does VENOM mean for you guys? I can only assume that you are huge fans. What are your expectations from the tribute, with so many great names already revealed?
“VENOM are the fathers of extreme Metal, period. They started it all. Obviously, without them bands like SLAYER or even METALLICA would not have even existed. We are stoked about the Iron Pegasus Records VENOM tribute, which is long overdue. It is interesting that all the classic songs that became VENOM hymns had already been taken for covering when Costa from Iron Pegasus Records told us about the tribute. So we decided to do a song off of an album that belongs to a period of the band that not too many people are crazy about. Back when “Possessed” came out, it didn’t become an instant classic and not too many were pleased with it. However, we think this album has some good songs and ‘Satanachist’ is definitely one of them.”
I think you made quite a long list of very good material, though if you had to look back on your glorious past, what 3 songs do you find to stick out and why? And what is the most complete album you’ve made?
“I’d stick with ‘Daemonium Vobiscum’, ‘Summoned To Hell’ and ‘Liquefied Blood Of Saints’. I think “De Natura Daemonum” is probably the most complete album, even though the production still not the best! I like the songs very much, but the sound makes it hard to get into for me.”
How often do you listen to MORTEM’s recordings?
“Not too often but once in a while. Once again, I am not very satisfied with the production sound, so every time I listen to the old albums, I get little satisfaction from it, since I start thinking: “Oh, this would have sounded much better if…” or “Why is the sound so shitty!””
I must admit that there is one thing about MORTEM’s music that I dislike, which is the triggered bass drum. In your opinion – how important is it to have the bass drum loud in the mix and do you honesty think that it’s better to use triggers for the sake of being able to play in a more extreme manner? Hand on heart, the bass drum sounds rather clicky in all MORTEM albums. Do you like it that way, or did you just not argue enough with the sound engineer about it?
“Sound engineer? What sound engineer? Heh-heh. Under the conditions we’ve recorded, the owner of the studio was usually the same person who mastered and engineered the whole thing (!) Anyway, Amduscias would be more qualified to answer this question. On his behalf, though, I would say that production has always been one of the biggest challenges for MORTEM since we started recording albums. It was very hard for us to get a clear, decent kick drum sound without triggering it because the quality of the original sound would ruin it. As a result, we might have overdone it in the mix. This probably had to do both with the quality of the equipment and the recording studios that we used. We have hopes to improve our sound in the future, though. With a better budget for production, we could afford the luxury of having a natural kick drum sound.”
I know that Alvaro has quite an impressive collection of pointy guitars. It’s probably way bigger than yours, who is an actual guitarist, isn’t it? How many pointy neckthru axes with Kahler tremolo bridges of death have accumulated in Alvaro’s home, which one of them is his absolute favorite and has he considered to play guitar in any band?
“Amduscias: 20+ guitars all in all, 9 have Kahlers. Two favourites: Bernie Rico Jr Vixen with Floyd Rose trem and Duncan Blackouts pick-ups and Moser Starblazer with Kahler trem, Seymour Duncan Distortion pick-ups and the Moser Booster and Cap Mod pre-amps. Amduscias loves collecting guitars but he leaves the guitar playing to Nebiros!”
How do you see the evolution of the Death Metal scene during the past years, where Death Metal has been again popularized? Back in the 90s, when you released classic albums, MORTEM was treated as an underdog, supported only by the few stubborn die hards, the scene seemed not that eager for old styled Dark Death Metal (everybody seemed focused on Norse style Black Metal back then), but these days, it’s the other way around… What are your thoughts on this?
“To be honest I wasn’t even aware of this. We’ve seen bigger trends come and go. Trends are always dangerous and I hope this is not a shitty one. Once again, I must mention that I don’t consider our music “old styled”, because it’s the only style we could play, it is the way we conceived extreme Metal, the only way we like to play it. On the other hand, now that all the (ridiculous) hype has passed (hopefully!), I think the contribution of Norse Black Metal to the scene should be acknowledged. Like I said in a previous answer, many bands that claim to play Death Metal have a sound that is more indebted to the Scandinavian sound rather than traditional Death Metal. Not us, of course.”
Which current bands do you support? How do you feel about cult names like PENTACLE, SADISTIC INTENT, HEADHUNTER D.C., EURYNOMOS, ATOMIC AGGRESSOR, etc.?
“All of the bands you’ve mentioned have my support! I still have to listen to EURYNOMOS, though (I will definitely check them out after this interview). HEADHUNTER D.C. are absolute Godz!!! My favourite band that is still active! We will finally be playing a show with them in June 2017, in Lima, Peru! PENTACLE are a true model of ancient Metal chivalry in the ancient style, the way it should always be. Also, they are definitely one of the most honest people I have had the honour to meet! True Metal Knights!!! We are honoured to have shared the stage with them not once but twice! SADISTIC INTENT’s “Ancient Black Earth” cannot be surpassed by any band, ever! Pure Death Metal royalty! ATOMIC AGGRESSOR are brothers of ancient South American Death! Having listened to them since their early demo, I was blown by their most recent album. It would be an honour to play with them. Hopefully we will!”
What 5 albums have you been listening a lot to lately?
“HEADHUNTER D.C.’s “In Unholy Mourning”, PSICORRAGIA’s “Madre Muerte”, IMMOLATION’s “Kingdom Of Conspiracy”, AUTOPSY’s “The Headless Ritual” and “Consuming Impulse” (you didn’t mean 21st century albums only, right?).”
Are there any plans to invade Europe for the promotion of the new full-length album? Any memories from those classic gigs with PENTACLE?
“We still don’t have any concrete plans to play in Europe. However, Costa from Iron Pegasus Records has suggested that there would be some interest in bringing us to the “old continent”. We’ve also had some proposals from independent promoters, but nothing confirmed as of yet! The shows we did in 2003 and 2004 were a valuable experience. Like I said earlier, it was a dream come true to share the stage with PENTACLE, one of my all-time favourite bands. Aside from them we also got to play with REPUGNANT and other great bands. Only good memories from those days! We really like to deal with promoters who have listened to our albums. In other words, we like to talk to people who share our same musical tastes and dislikes. We don’t enjoy playing in front of a bigger audience as much as we do in front of maniacs who dig our music. If there’s only one of them in the crowd we will play for that mother fucking maniac only! If you like our music, get in touch with us! If you’ve never listened to any of our albums and you’re just looking for an exotic South American band to complete the bill, then Fuck Off!!!!”
Thanks a lot for answering all our rabid and maniacal questions, I hope it has been good fun, and please don’t let us wait 11 years for the next MORTEM album.
“Thank you for this great interview and for being so patient! We definitely enjoyed the questions a lot. It is great to be in Voices From The Darkside after all these years! And, by the way, thanks to your readers for choosing “Deinós Nekrómantis” as the No.1 album in 2016!!! We are more than honoured by the maniacs’ choice! We also hope to record a new album sooner! Behold, we’ll return from our ancient Death!”
The following second part is an old MORTEM interview with Fernán that was part of a Death Metal special in the debut issue of SNAKEPIT way back in 1997… since some of you probably never got to read it, we figured it would be a good idea to re-publish it here as well. Enjoy!
You’ve been around for quite a while now, but weren’t able to make it real big ever since, so what keeps you still going?
"What keeps us going is that we like playing Metal music. It’s the only thing that matters. Since we first started back in 1986 that has been our main goal: to play true brutal Metal. We also have a strong following here in Peru, so I guess that gives us some fuel too."
Your music is pretty much out of fashion these days, but nevertheless you consequently stick to it. Is it hard to find new inspirations to keep the songwriting fresh and the motivation on a high level?
"It’s not really hard for us, cos as I told you, we like the music we are playing. We still have a lot of ideas to develop, but throughout all these years we have already settled on a definite style, which we won’t change and that means we won’t play the music that is "fashion" if we don’t like it. That would mean to betray our roots. About the songwriting, we do have plenty of new songs and many old demo songs too, which are unknown to anyone outside Peru, and we plan to release those tracks, which keep our old spirit pretty much alive and preserved. We don’t care if people don’t like our music for being "out of fashion" if we like it, then that’s enough for us."
Have you ever thought about quitting the whole business, because of the fact that everything these days is just based on trends and not on honest feeling anymore?
"Well, sometimes we might get mad when we read in the zines that so many young bands naming only three old bands as their influences when there is just so much more in Metal. Who knows, maybe some bands are true, but right now we cannot figure out because of the enormous amount of trendy bands. I think we will never quit playing extreme Metal cos we aren’t doing this for money."
Would you agree that a big part of the release overkill currently is based on all the sideprojects that many musicians are involved in? What do you think about those projects in general?
"Yes, I agree with you. I guess there are a few exceptions, but most of those side projects are just pathetic crap!!! Fuck them!!! Those people only want to satisfy their mediocre egos, but they are so pathetic. Labels are to blame for that too, cos they sign those side project one-piece bands and don’t give the chance to other bands that deserve it. They only care about cashing in. Death to posers and wimps!!!"
How much new stuff do you actually listen to? Are there any records these days that have a chance (from your point of view) to become classics in the years to come?
"We only listen to Metal bands. We listen to bands that have distorted guitars, bass and drums and brutal vocals / lyrics. We really can’t get into these new bands that give keyboards and synthesizers a priority over the guitar sound. I don’t care if we’re narrow-minded but that music is hardly Metal for me. At least not the same Metal I’ve been listening to. They better find a new label to name it. If all the bands are going in that direction in the future, then Metal is dead for them, but not for us. About bands becoming classics, I think it is very hard to say nowadays, I’m sure there must be some bands putting out some masterpieces right now, but they get lost and smothered among all the other trendy crap."
Could you imagine that all your hard work will be honoured some day or do you think old school Death / Thrash Metal will never get as popular as any other fashion?
"We don’t expect anyone to honour our music, cos we never have played to become gods or anything like that. We have only played to satisfy our needs. I don’t really care if old Metal will ever become a new trend but that wouldn’t be healthy either. I hope that some bands come up with new original ideas (not necessarily old) but INSIDE or WITHIN the boundaries of Metal music. There is no need to look for sounds that are strange to Metal as if everything concerning Metal had been said. Metal is fucking alive!!!"
What do you think differs your band from the masses?
"I think it’s mainly our influences. I think our main influences are SLAYER, POSSESSED, SACRIFICE, MERCYFUL FATE and a few more. Nowadays almost every band I read about in every zine claims to be influenced by VENOM, BATHORY or HELLHAMMER. I was wondering how could 16 – 17 year old kids have such old influences. But when I listen to those bands, they all sound like BURZUM or DARKTHRONE. The same vocals, the same riffs and make-up!!! Anyway, there is so much more in Metal than just those three bands (which I respect a lot), like for example: NECROPHAGIA, IMMOLATION, INFERNÄL MÄJESTY, EXORCIST, ASSASSIN, MESSIAH, BLACK SHEPHERD, MEFISTO, BULLDOZER, DEATHROW, CASBAH, THANATOS and tons more."
The best album ever made?
"If I ever had to choose only one album I’d say SLAYER "Hell Awaits"!"
How do you manage to survive in the underground without real recognition these days? How do you promote your band / music and does it work out?
"Because we don’t live on our music, because that would be the worst thing for us. We have survived about ten years like that, so I don’t see why we couldn’t carry on. Volker from Merciless Records has helped us a lot in the promotion of our band. I think he signs bands not because they are trendy, but because he really likes them, so he really deserves to be supported. Our album has got really good reviews in many Metal mags."
Any closing comments?
"Thanks for this interesting interview, Frank. Greetings to the German Metallers! Stay evil and brutal! Remember Metal can’t be played with synthesizers!!! Order our CD from Merciless Records and support true Metal only!"
The True Mortem: www.facebook.com/the-true-mortem-peru-151727424891464
Fernán “Nebiros” López: www.facebook.com/nebiros.mortem
Ulises “Amduscias” López: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009494083518
Interview: Sergei Pismeny, Manolis A., Anders Peter Jørgensen, Alfonso Perez, Frank Stöver
Vintage interview and introduction: Frank Stöver