Editor’s note: The interviews for this feature took place in Spring 2020 but due to an oversight there was a delay in the publishing of this piece.
Boston nihilists Grief were not only an arbiter of the north-eastern sludge movement, but a sonic monolith of pain and downtuned aggression revered amongst the genre’s gritty history. However, shortly after heading into the fledgling years of the 21st Century, the band fell apart. Enter Come To Grief – a band that in many ways are an extension of Grief, named after their landmark 1994 album, and yet are something uniquely their own. The Massachusetts sludge metal outfit formed in 2014, five years after Grief’s final disbandment, as the brainchild of Terry Savastano, a founding member of Grief, with Chuck Conlon, Jonathan Hébert and, most recently, Randy Larsen.
Besides Terry, Chuck is the only other member of Come To Grief that spent time in Grief, and was the drummer/percussionist on 2000’s …And Man Will Become The Hunted. Reflecting on when he was first introduced to Grief prior to entering the band, and the impact it had on him, he tells us, “One of my friends had shown me Grief. I was probably seventeen at that time, and pissed off. We were into early Cave In… Bane was always playing. I was always going to shows and that’s what was available in my area, that hardcore. I remember my buddy handing to me, believe it or not was Torso , Torso and Miserably Ever After , and that was it for me! He gave me the fucking CD and he was like, ‘Dude. You gotta listen to this shit, there’s nothing else like it.’ So I brought it home, put it in, and afterwards I was like, ‘What the fuck was that?!’ As a drummer it’s the most awkward, angry, weird time – I don’t even think it was in time to be honest with you. Mindblowing, man.”
In 2001 Grief dissolved, though there were two short-lived reunions in 2005 and 2008. Terry explains that the initial dissolution of the band “was just pissed off-ness. It was alcohol, it was drugs, it was lack of momentum. Stagnation leads to hostility, no doubt about it.”
After his initial departure, Terry spent many years outside of the music scene and re-emerged with a smouldering passion. “I wanted to play the music again and certain members weren’t really interested in doing it,” he states emphatically. “And I decided to start a band on my own and call it Come To Grief, instead of just Grief – out of respect for the other members of the band. I didn’t want to be a jerk-off, and we just did songs that I wrote and had a large part in writing.”
He stresses the need to create, the need to express through sound, and explains that the music of Grief got him through some tough moments in life after their initial dissolution. The need to have that same sense of expressive heaviness and to channel personal emotions was an initial stimulus to form the band, as Terry says – “I just want to play music and get it out there. It’s very therapeutic; that’s one of the main reasons I play it. I need to play it!”
Jonathan echoes similar sentiments on the sonic experience of Come To Grief being cathartic. “It can be like participating in your own exorcism in a lot of ways,” he explains. “And, when it’s all done and endorphins and adrenaline are coursing through me, I have no worries. It’s like we’re all high on the killer show we just played, and all of life’s stresses are nowhere to be found, at least for a little while. Usually until it’s time to load up the van!”
For their new project, Terry and Chuck carried over the sonically oppressive and emotively fierce sounds of their time in Grief – bleakness through the roar of internal anguish and pain. After all, the grim, insane beauty of…And Man Will Become The Hunted comes through with such clear intensity that it feels like a hot knife slicing through butter, except the knife is blistering sound emanating from the void and the butter is your mind being split in twain.
Bearing this angst-ridden focus in mind, there is also something else to consider – the philosophy driving such sonic aggression. When listening to bands like Eyehategod, Fudge Tunnel, Cavity and Sourvein, this bleak sense of life pours forth like blood from an open wound. In recent years, artists like SUMAC, Thou, Vile Creature and SEA have been adding to this basis, developing a deep sense of introspection into time, pain and existence. All of these ideas were foundational elements to Grief in such a brutally organic manner, and spilled over into Come To Grief.
“Without even thinking about it, or trying to accomplish anything like that, I think I have probably accomplished something like that,” Terry responds in a moment of reflection. “It’s a much larger thing, it’s more beyond anything that I can describe. It’s a lot bigger than I initially thought. It’s true. It isn’t more of an extension of what I think and how I feel.”
This deeper sense of inner detail and tumult is what Terry aimed to express with sound and voice, whilst stirring the audience. The gravity of the atmosphere is so much more than just the heaviness of the sound. It’s an all-encompassing ideology. It’s the weight of the emotive output and how it cloaks and constricts the listener.
“Heavy has always been something similar to a primal, or carnal feeling,” Jonathan poses. “Like an instinctual recognition of a feeling, like fear, or anger, or hate, or love, or lust. It’s just something that takes over your senses. When it’s heavy you know it, because you can feel it undeniably. Personally, I like my heavy to be a bit more on the raw and unhinged side.”
Terry holds a similar position: “Heavy to me was always – Hendrix is heavy to me. Black Sabbath, Winter from New York – that’s heavy to me. A lot of Neurosis is very, very, VERY heavy to me. SubRosa is very, very heavy to me. Budgie – that’s heavy to me. Tony Bourge is one of my favourite guitar players. Heaviness is a personal thing to me. I like to think I create some pretty heavy shit, and ya know it’s not just the music it’s the aura of the whole thing. It’s hard to describe sometimes. Sometimes I hear heaviness in the most obscure places. John Coltrane is a little fucking heavy. I can’t describe it man. It’s what I feel and what I love, and it’s vibrations. It affects everyone in certain ways.”
This cathartic release through the veins of sludge was not always as accepted in certain metal circles as it is today. It is, in part, what led to the dissolution of Grief. New Orleans bands like Eyehategod and Crowbar emerged from the underground to be successful year after year. Terry points out that, in the North-East, the focus was more on death metal and hardcore during the ‘90s and early 2000s, and Grief would get lumped in on shows where the crowd was perhaps not expecting anything quite as slow. There was also the issue of pinning down a drummer. Chuck, as Grief’s last drummer, explains that, “Back then I was young. I was nineteen when I joined. I was coming more out of a hardcore scene, and getting into doing sludge with Grief at that time. Back then we played [Massachusetts venue] The Middle East to like ten people! Really not many people were into it. It was super underground.”
Fast forward to today’s dynamic, interwoven scene. “It’s crazy to see generally heavy music no matter what the scene,” Chuck says. “That’s craziness in and of itself, and it’s especially wild to see how big sludge, doom and the super crusty shit is. People love it! Hundreds of people come to a show! It’s fucking crazy. I always say to people that if the eighteen or nineteen-year-old me knew this is how it would be today – and I’m 41 now – I wouldn’t have ever believed it.”
He also highlights that the modern underground scene has benefited from the ability to share music far and wide via the internet. “All you gotta do is go online and check a band out,” Terry observes. “Back then it was all writing. I met Mike and Joey from Eyehategod through writing. Nowadays, it’s click, click, click, and ‘Hey what’s up?! Let’s do a split!’”
Terry adds that today’s metal youth are more accepting of sludge and extreme metal in general. “I think kids are angry and pissed off, and they understand the music more,” he suggests. “They want something more bludgeoning, and more forceful and pissed off. I mean stuff like [Cannibal Corpse’s] ‘Hammer Smashed Face’, and stuff like that, is great. Morbid Angel is great with shredding guitar playing, but they want like violence, they wanna get it out. That’s why I play this music, to get it out, it’s therapeutic, man.
“It’s a bunch of different factors too. Let’s face it, certain types of music have maybe run their course. I mean black metal – whatever, it’s great. I like some of it, a good portion of it actually, but the shit I write is darker, and more evil, and more pissed off than that, by far, man.”
This looming darkness, vileness, and misanthropy that Terry alludes to has come out in full force with Come To Grief. Especially on their latest release, February 2020’s Pray For The End EP – a three-track yearning for an escape from the pained existence that humanity has thrust itself into. The transgressive and blistering topical material creates a sonic canvas where the lyrics are the brush, and the paint is boiling blood.
Terry explains this painful grind is epitomised in ‘R*ping the Willing’: “It’s work, it’s about machines. It’s about working in a Ford fucking factory building fucking machines. I cut paper for a living, working with dickheads, breaking your balls. I never made a lot of money. I probably never will make a lot of money. It’s a fucking horror show. But that’s honest – that’s in me – and it’s the soul that goes into the music. R*ping the willing. Yeah, ‘cause we’re all willing to be r*ped for money. What’s gonna happen with this bio thing or virus and all that shit. Who knows what’s gonna happen?!”
The finality of it all is stark, and echoed in Terry’s commentary on “the end” in that “it’s kinda sad. I just see it, I sense it, I feel it. Nobody cares, nobody is prepared. Everyone around me is soccer mums and they are all freaking out. “What’s gonna happen?” Everybody’s anti-gun. “Oh what are we gonna do? We’re all gonna die!” I don’t even know, and I don’t even care. I just wanna play music, smoke pot and be mellow and relax. I can’t do that right now. But there is definitely a sense of the end. The full-length is gonna be called When The World Dies. It’s all lineage. It’s all to the end. To the finality of mankind, because it seems that way man.”
Pray For The End is out now. Order here.
Words: Garrett A. Tanner