A chat with Birmingham’s death metal prime OSDM crew ahead of their slot at this year’s Supersonic.
Amidst the current slew of complex, cosmic Demilich-isms currently flooding the OSDM revival scene, it would be easy to forget that Finland was once one of the healthiest and most interesting death metal hotspots in the world.
One act who haven’t forgotten this, however, are Savage Realm. Rising from the ashes of crust-sludgers Lich in 2016, the Birmingham five-piece unleashed the Nocturnal Savagery demo that same year, juxtaposing tightly-wound crust with a comprehensive understanding of what makes finndeath-influenced, cassette-borne OSDM rip so hard. This resulted in some of the most vicious and oddly up-to-date sounding death metal to originate from our cursed isle in quite some time.
In anticipation of the quintet’s homecoming performance at Supersonic’s opening night this coming Friday, we caught up with the band to chat crust punk, death metal’s foundations and the enduring magic of the cassette.
Nocturnal Savagery is easily one of the heaviest releases to come out of the (admittedly limited) old school death metal scene in the UK in recent years. With a full set to fill at Supersonic, can we expect something from you guys release-wise anytime soon?
Kunal (bass): We have enough new stuff to fill up an EP for sure. Just trying to work out where to record that’s convenient for everyone and that will have enough of the aforementioned grit.
Who are you most excited to be alongside on the bill at Supersonic?
K: It looks like we’re on the metallic day of the fest which I am down with. Would it be obvious to give Neurosis as my answer? I mean I think they peaked at Times Of Grace for me but on a big posh stage in my hometown? Bring it on. Yob and Hey Colossus will be good fun I’m sure. I’m missing the Sunday to go on holiday by the way.
What was it that first turned you onto death metal in the first place?
Oli (guitar): Well for me personally, and I probably can safely speak for some others in the band, that metal has always gone hand in hand with hardcore. For most of us growing up in Kent, shows were either metalcore bands, or hardcore with a capital H. I heard my first hardcore records, Cave In‘s Beyond Hypothermia, alongside my first ‘extreme’ metal albums, like At The Gates‘ Slaughter of The Soul and Reign in Blood. Through going to those hardcore gigs, I found out about a lot of thrash and black metal too – through t-shirts and talking to people rather than actually seeing/hearing it. Death metal came a bit later, when I got to know my friends Chris and Sam and they got me into things like Autopsy, Bolt Thrower and Morbid Angel.
K: I think Carcass‘ Heartwork was my first real foray into it, about a decade after it came out. The cover looked weird and I’d seen the video for ‘No Love Lost’ on MTV on holiday once around the time it came out and it really stuck in my memory. I know there’s lots of debate as to whether it’s too melodic, but shut up, I like melody.
You guys have been making some waves in the underground, most notably with your inclusion in the lineup at Supersonic. Supersonic is an incredibly varied and eclectic lineup – do you think that experimentation and variation is an important thing for the UK scene?
O: I don’t know many bands on the bill, apart from the more obvious, headline acts. I like checking in with Hey Colossus every few years. I always enjoy watching them and it’s sick that they’ve been going so long. They were one of the first DIY bands I ever saw live actually, and I distinctly remember thinking “What the fuck?” when they told me they didn’t have CDs, only records. I also really loved that recent Jerusalem In My Heart album, so I was excited to see them on the lineup. Dälek will be fun too. The first time I saw them was at Supersonic and they were excellent.
K: I would argue that we don’t make waves, rather that we come out our shells on a less frequent basis and that makes us look mysterious (unfortunately). I’m all for variety and am pretty sick of bands that all sound, look and smell the same.
There seems to be a resurgent interest in death metal’s more primal roots from people in the hardcore scene – why do you think this is?
K: I think back in the day there was a real distinction between the scenes, politics and po-facedness versus beer and blood. Maybe people have gotten more accepting, and sonically they’re both pretty primal at the end of the day.
Without Discharge, it’s arguable that death metal wouldn’t exist. What do you think will come of the latest resurgence in the crustier, old school death metal sound? Do you think anything needs to come out of it?
O: By that same theory, you could say death metal wouldn’t exist without The Stooges or Bo Diddley (pushes reading glasses up nose)! I’m not going there, though haha. But yes, Discharge were one of the first to do that primitive, blown-out tone and approach and of course the d-beat was really important for thrash and death metal. You probably don’t have stuff like Sodom and Bathory without them and certainly not UK stuff like Carcass and Napalm Death. Oh yeah, Metallica being an obvious one too!
K: I actually never thought of Discharge as a foundation for death metal since there are so many bands that directly ape them that I hadn’t noticed. I think there is an influx of bands that are anti-fidelity, really murky and almost unlistenable. Like all genres and subgenres, some are great and some are terrible.
What is it about cassette releases that are interesting to you guys? What do you think of cassette as a medium? What significance does it hold in 2019?
O: The cassette release and the artwork was a specific nod to those death metal demos that we’ve trawled endlessly through YouTube and Soulseek to listen to. The Demigod Unholy Domain demo and Crematory‘s Exordium tape were particular references that we talked about and loved – the simple black and white contrast of those covers is so killer and fits an aural theme that we wish we could be part of. As we can’t, we’ll just have to rip off the look!
It was always going to be a tape anyway, because that’s how most of our bands have released their first material, but as an aesthetic theme it fit perfectly too. We’ve always been part of music scenes that have tapes as an important, easily accessible format – they’re cheap, sound good enough and absolutely serve a purpose. In terms of my collection of tapes, they’re as important as 7″s, but I listen to LPs way more than both of those formats. I guess their relevance in 2019 is related to what seems to be the ever-increasing price and popularity of records. Every band should have the opportunity to release their music physically and this is the low risk way to do it.
K: First and foremost, tapes are practical. It takes a week or two to a get a bunch of tapes copied. For vinyl, you’re looking at four to five months, at least. Tapes are cheap to make and to send out too. The downside is that they sound shitty, but that suits something like Savage Realm, not because we are shitty (arguably) but because the faults of the format add to rather than detract from the sound. More grit, more hiss, more noise.
Where do your musical roots lie as a band? What was the impetus behind the move from the crusty sludge of Lich into the death metal savagery you’re putting forward now?
O: After Lich disbanded, we started Savage Realm with a song we were half done finishing (‘The Sea Of Claws’ off the Nocturnal Savagery tape), so it felt like Lich was getting more metal and Savage Realm gave us full agency to continue that route. I’d say our new stuff is the best, most brutal yet and we’re gradually getting better at writing slightly more coherent songs.
K: I wasn’t in Lich but I’m going to comment anyway. I think the spirit lives on with the love of fast riffs whacked on to slow riffs, except now there are some solos.
What do you guys think of the current state of the death metal scene?
O: The only thing that needs to come out of any music, is that it is effective in some way for some small group of people. Metal specifically at the moment is exciting, as there are more bands doing more types of metal than we’ve ever had the option of listening to before (if this isn’t too obvious to say). Even within the genre of death metal you have bands like Blood Incantation, who are taking influence from new age music and prog in their writing; Portal have that abstract murk, which is so obfuscating as to barely make it definable as metal; and then there’s bands from that newish label called Maggot Stomp who release complete knucklehead, “caveman” death metal, so it’s all out there and happening, with a similar amount of appreciation for both primitive and polished forms of it – which I guess has been the case all along!
We’re doing that crustier type of thing because we can write and play it (nothing too technical for us please!), we only just got hold of a double-kick pedal (haven’t used it yet!) and it’s similar to what some of us have done before. Would we like to do something more ambitious? Yes! Do we have the time, skill and capabilities? Probably not. Really, it’s a good thing that we don’t have the choice.
Words: Richard Lowe
Photo Credit: Robbie Judkins