If you’ll humor me and step back in time to envision sludge metal from an immediate post-‘Time Heals Nothing’ perspective, there was no massive upsurge of acts in the late 90’s/early 2000’s who’d choose distinctly 90’s hardcore patternation for their “edge” of choice. Instead, underground acts angled their way toward greater abstraction, fraying into infinite possibilities that’d consistently stepped over testosterone-core for the sake of tandem evolution with metalcore. The choice to finally go there was a last resort in terms of exploring, er, exhausting all marketable sludge-toned possibilities prior to post-metal expressionism. Many bands have managed fine works of toughguy hardcore/sludge (and even death metal) crossover in the years since but a couple of awful Kingdom of Sorrow albums in the late 2000’s hadn’t set the right example per the possibilities at hand. Proper linkages between beatdown-level hardcore and the broadened spectrum of sludge tends to stick best when employing hi-fi death metal tonality, a crucial glue to hold it all together. Though Los Angeles, California-based trio Holy Death largely present themselves as a death/doom metal band of varietal influences, be it psychedelic doom or metallic hardcore, their style lands upon a “best of both worlds” scenario in merger of sludge metal and moshable metallic hardcore riffs on this debut full-length, ‘Separate Mind From Flesh‘.
Holy Death formed as a very different beast in 2019 while vocalist/guitarist Torie John was living in Nevada. Their first EP (‘MMXIX‘, 2019) caught my ear for its dark vision of psychedelic doom/sludge metal, complete with trailing solos and plenty of thundering amplifier worship. At that point I’d assumed their approach would lean into the style of records like Cavity‘s ‘Human Abjection‘ or early Grief but with ‘Supreme Metaphysical Violence‘ (2020) their death/doom and death metal/hardcore influences began to pick up steam. The band’s breakout release and third EP that year, ‘Deus Mortis‘, most clearly indicates what we could expect from ‘Separate Mind From Flesh’. The forceful chunking of Xibalba‘s ‘Hasta La Muerte’ gets us there in terms of attitude and piledriving death metal-toned attack it but I’d rather point to the space shared between bands like Integrity and Ringworm as well as the beatdown-heavy evolution of what I’ll loosely refer to as ‘California hardcore’ beyond 1995 for precedence. That is to say that this record might perk the ears of Terminal Nation fans up front but some of the real serious lunges taken might stoke a Jesus Piece fan just as much as a Jungle Rot bro, or thereabouts. The one album that repeatedly came to mind as I took a closer ear to ‘Separate Mind From Flesh’ was Nihility‘s ‘Imprisoned Eternal‘ not only for the guttural, muscular force of certain cuts but for its the clangorous, chain-rattling production values, as if the pit they were playing into was covered in mosh-polished chrome. There is more to the record than hardcore/death metal crossover, this isn’t a Madball record with growls or whatever, but you’re not going to miss that aspect of the full listen up front.
‘Separate Mind From Flesh’ is a ~half hour bruiser and a bleeder, a hard hit up front which slowly leans into a more distantly atmospheric side as it progresses. Intent on refining the core oeuvre outlined within ‘Deus Mortis’, Holy Death have introduced more mid-paced death metal movements and notably reshaped their death/doom metal pacing to better merge with the aggression they’ve amped up otherwise. The music itself is quite simple in terms of presentation but the elemental balance herein is especially fine-tuned, approaching with a distinct harder-than-thou doomed-hardcore physicality all their own. As a person who -gets- these specific realms of metallic hardcore/early metalcore, sludge metal, and death/doom metal there is some joy in witnessing this not-so-odd triangulation of idioms presented without too severe a compromise. ‘Old school’ death metal fans might duck and run the moment “Nailbat” windmill punches its way into the pit but folks who’ve embraced the 90’s hardcore influenced & pit friendly side of modern death metal these last several years will be floored by the real thing here. A moderately high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Separate Mind From Flesh|
|LABEL(S):||Seeing Red Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||October 29th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp|
The following interview with Holy Death vocalist/guitarist Torie John was conducted somewhere nearby April 20th, 2021 specifically for the inaugural issue of MYSTIFICATION ZINE a print exclusive magazine which functions as an extension of GrizzlyButts.com. Issue #1 “Primitive Futurity” released on July 23rd this year and is still available for purchase via Spirit Coffin Publishing. Grabbing a copy is the best way to support the site, the label, and push the focus towards print magazines in the future. Same goes for Holy Death, buy their shit and follow ’em on social media, support! Note: At the time of the interview the album’s working title was ‘Dethrone’.
In the past you’ve referred to a near-death experience preceding and perhaps inspiring the formation of Holy Death. Can you describe what happened? Was this a spiritual event in any sense or, more of a gradual reasoning towards personal goals? A “life is short, do it now” kind of revelation?
Mid 2019 I really started writing and demo’ing songs. But it was very casual with no definitive goals. In the Fall I was called for Jury Duty on a murder trial. It was pretty intense. There was an FBI agent involved and shady cops. It was wild. But a week or so into that unbeknownst to me I had a tooth infection that rapidly spread and went septic. I went to the ER and was admitted to the hospital. I spent a week in the hospital. After I was realized I absolutely had the life is short mentality and just went for it. When I recorded the vocals for the first release my throat was still sore from being intubated and there was a hole in my neck still healing where they attached a tube to drain the infection.
How did you arrive upon the goal of starting a band and going for it? Had you been involved in any heavy music projects before or, did you have a bank of written songs/riffs?
I had been playing bands since high school and have stayed relatively consistent since. I was always in hardcore/power violence bands. Since I was a kid I wanted to start a metal band. Holy Death is a direct musical reflection of my childhood. Before I was born my dad was putting headphones with Slayer and Metallica on my mother’s stomach while I was in the womb. As a kid my dad played music non-stop: Morbid Angel, Sepultura, Black Sabbath, etc. I had years of ideas ready to go.
Was Holy Death technically a solo project for that first demo? I remember randomly finding it on Bandcamp, being blown away, and saying to myself “Man, I hope they keep going with this” because I figure as an artist you put stuff out there online and don’t really expect the world to notice.
It was a solo project at first. I did not expect anyone to be into [it]. My main goal was to just share it with friends and play it for my kids when they got older. But thanks to you and other blogs like No Clean Singing writing & sharing the music I was inspired to make it a legit band.
Holy Death’s sound changed quickly beyond that first MMXIX 2019 demo, which was more of a psychedelic doom metal sound edging into the death metal realm. I saw ‘Supreme Metaphysical Violence’ as a sort of flipping of the table and ‘Celestial Throne ov Grief’ seemed to reach the right crossover ‘signature’ moment between influences. How do you account for those first few releases being fairly different? Had you been satisfied with your sound and style up to that point or, is the goalpost ever-shifting for Holy Death?
There is definitely an ever-shifting goal post for the band. On one hand I’m satisfied with the releases but I have yet to achieve the balance of death and doom I’m striving for. I feel like MMXIX will always be the heart of the band. I’m sure in the future we will revisit that sound. I think between the first three releases the sound just rapidly evolved. If I were to have waited, formed a proper band and recorded all those songs at once I suspect they would sounded much more cohesive stylistically.
Speaking of ‘Supreme Metaphysical Violence’, the lyric “For all that I’ve done, death will find me” sticks with me to this day, I feel like there is a bit of personal philosophy to pull from the tone of this song, death as an inevitable punishment or, equalizing spiritual reaction. Trauma, cheating death, penance etc. What were you aiming to get across within the lyrics at that point?
It’s not 100% verified but from what my maternal grandmother shared with me and information I found while doing genealogical research my maternal great-grand father was a Nazi soldier stationed at Dachau Concentration camp. I haven’t been able to conclusively verify his fate but my hope is he was tried and hung for war crimes as many Nazis were. I have kids and as they get older I can’t help but notice the inherent similarities between us—especially my daughter. She is like a carbon copy of me. Those thoughts led me to think of the blood I share with my maternal great-grandfather. The first of half of that song is directed towards him and my desire that is life was cut short. The second half I turned it on myself as a reminder to always self-reflect and hold myself accountable.
Your vocals were also a notable change from that second EP point on. I read it as a showcase for some hardcore influences, though to be fair death metal vocals have gone that way in the last couple decades. Are you big into 90’s hardcore and that early crossover with metalcore? I hear a bit of All Out War on parts of ‘Deus Mortis’.
I grew up in the hardcore scene. That’s where I came into my own. Having spent my childhood with a metalhead dad it was a whole new world when I found hardcore. Without a doubt 90s hardcore has had a huge influence on me. Before recording the vocals I envisioned the them to be brutal but articulate. I think the main factor in the vocal style changing on the second EP was that my throat was finally healed up from being intubated in the hospital. I had a really hard time recording vocals for MMXIX.
I know you’ve gone over this before at this point but, in terms of picking up a guitar and chunking a riff out, what are your biggest influences today? Do you keep up with a lot of newer death, doom and hardcore music?
My biggest influence today is Behemoth and they have been for awhile. I had a chance to see them in 2003 at Showcase Theatre in Riverside, CA. There was maybe 100 or so people there. Ever since that day they have been a major musical inspiration. As for the actual process most of the time I put on a horror movie or documentary and just riff until something stands out.
I do keep up with newer bands. It’s hard to keep up though. There are so many goods bands out there and so little time. Right now Heretical Sect, Kvll and Celestial Sanctuary are current bands that I’m constantly listening to.
I remember when Korn and Steve Vai were plastered all over Guitar World back in the late 90’s, trying to sell me a cheap 7-string Ibanez RG, which these days serve as sort of ideal instruments for modern hardcorish underground death metal folks. With all of the boss low end coming from the last few EPs, I figure you’ve got a pretty unique blend of gear going on these days. Are you using 7-string guitars at all or primarily 8-stringed? Can you give us an (elaborate as you like) rundown of your current go to rig?
So far everything we released I recorded with an 8 string tuned to F# standard. But everything on Deus Mortis can be played on a 6 string tuned to B Standard. I did not touch the low F# string on the whole EP. After writing that EP and the upcoming LP I decided to make the switch back to 6 strings tuned to B standard.
Currently my main setup is my ESP E !! Arrow tuned to B standard > Maxon ST-9 Super Tube Pro Plus > [insert HM-2 clone] Peavey Invective 120. Right now my current go-to HM-2 style pedals are the God City’s Judgentil and the Ratsaw by Inverted Cross Audio. Last year I reached out to ICA to make a Rat/HM2 hybrid and he made the Ratsaw. It came out so good. I love this thing. It was the main sound of the guitars on Deus Mortis.
How important is getting the right tone for you as a player? for Holy Death’s sound? I figure some natural sustain is key for the mid-to-doom paced pieces you’re known for.
Yeah Sustain is key when playing a lot of chords that ring out. For me getting the right tone is important and constantly evolving. When I first started the band I was going to use an HM-2 pedal but before I recorded I switched it out for Fuzz. Eventually on Deus Mortis I went back to the original plan and used an HM-2 style pedal. The characteristics of the HM-2 add such a rad texture with holding on those chords.
You’ve just released a compilation of all of your material up to this point (‘Sacred Blessings’), ‘Deus Mortis’ found its way to vinyl, and now I’ve heard rumblings of a full-length being finished or on the way. Also it looks like you’ve relocated from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. What is next for Holy Death? Any news on the LP?
I was born and raised in and around LA. I moved to Las Vegas for work a few years ago but had enough of the desert and decided to comeback home. But yeah I’m so stoked on those physical releases. We’ve been working with Seeing Red Records and it’s been awesome. We recorded the the full length in February with Alex Estrada at Pale Moon studios in LA. He has worked with Nails and Xibalba. We had it mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege. It’s set to be released this August. Details of the record will be out soon.
What is the best way for fans to show support Holy Death?
Sharing, liking, etc—essentially spreading the word online so the algorithm overlords bless us.
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