Old school death metal is indeed alive and well, with Gruesome, a band based out of the United States and whose sole purpose is to spread the sheer aggression and excitement that comes from good, old school heavy music. Formed in 2014 by Matt Harvey (Exhumed, Dekapitator) and Gus Rios (Evil Amidst, Liquid Death) when Exhumed supported the Death To All Tour, what originally began as a sudden topic of fun conversation led to a group of musicians, playing music inspired by the first three albums of the timeless band Death. Six years, five releases and a whole bunch of sick shows later, the band is undoubtedly making fierce waves in the metal world, reviving a very special sound and style with their own twist. I had the pleasure of talking to the bassist and manager of the band, Robin Mazen about their latest split with Exhumed, her years of experience touring and playing metal and her immense love for Metallica!
Gruesome just released a new split ‘Twisted Horror’ with Matt’s other band Exhumed, and it’s a monster. Robin talked about how the idea for the split came about rather quickly, proving just how focused and dedicated Gruesome is, to what they do.
“It’s out and I hope it does well! Some of the coloured vinyl sold out even before the record was released so that’s definitely a good sign. I’m just glad to see that people are still interested in it at this time, still buying music and merch, supporting bands which is great considering a lot of people aren’t working. We’re just glad that it’s out there. Matt was basically responsible for wanting to do this one; he proposed the entire idea and everyone just went with it. He also helped design the album cover; definitely the brains behind this one. “
Robin was a part of the Death To All Tour as well, working on the European run of the tour. Delving a little further back in time, to when Robin was invited to join Gruesome by Matt and Gus who had already started the band, she remembers how excited she was when she joined them and where it all began.
“They had one demo done when Gus called me, asking if I’d be interested in playing bass in what was essentially a Death worship band. We played in a band together called Impure about 20 years ago, so he said that they knew they wanted me to be a part of it, and didn't need me to try out or anything. I was pretty excited to do it because I’d been in my first band Derketa forever and we did a few things here and there but it wasn’t the same. Everyone in Gruesome had been in touring bands for a long time so it was definitely on a different level to what I had done before, and that was the exciting part! We didn’t know where we were going with it, weren’t expecting much and just decided to see where it took us.”
The band released their first demo ‘Savage Land’ in 2014, before the full-length of the same name came in 2015, their debut record and tribute to the legacy left behind by Chuck Schuldiner through Death’s music. With the record throwing light on just how immensely important the album ‘Leprosy’ is, Robin shares how members of Gruesome felt the day it came out and the response it got.
“I was on tour with Napalm Death, Exhumed and Voivod, five years ago and I remember Matt and I talking about how we’re keen for the record to come out but also how no one’s really going to care. But then all of a sudden, people were telling us how great it was, buying the album and our merch - we honestly weren't expecting it. We didn’t even really think about playing shows until we were asked if we wanted to play a festival and so that’s where we started! Obviously there are some people who don’t like what we do, but that’s understandable of anything - not everybody is going to like your band. Many think we’re making money by ripping off Death and I’m like, ‘ Well, where’s the money because I haven’t seen it yet!’ . We call it writing ‘original covers’ because that’s exactly what we’re doing - paying tribute to one of the greatest bands of all time because we like playing in it and we love the music. Gruesome is just fun to me.”
The band has reached all kinds of milestones in the six years of their existence, building up quite a following, reviving some of the most raw, aggressive music known to man and creating a series of incredibly accurate homage albums. We talked about what’s happening in the near to distant future for the band, and reflected on some of the best (and not so great) shows they’ve done.
“There’s a plan; everything’s pretty much done! There was a little bit of a change between what’s going to come out next but it’s all worked out. I would love to get out and tour of course but I guess we’ll just have to wait for that. The new record is basically getting written right now so that’s three different things that are getting written right now in three of my bands, which is awesome because everyone has the time to focus on it. Even though it’s a rough time for bands and touring at the moment, I feel like we’re going to keep releasing music anyway because now we have more time to do it.”
“We’ve loved touring, playing festivals and shows across Europe and North America. One of the best tours we’ve done was an East Coast run with Obituary which was awesome. We’ve played tons of festivals which were really cool, especially the European summer festivals, a couple in Canada and the States. Our show in Mexico was fun but a bit rough - because we didn’t practice! Like, what were we thinking? It was a bit stressful but we got through it. The weirdest thing though, is that we’ve never done a full tour of the States or Europe so hopefully when all this is over, we’re able to get back on the road to do the tours that fell through this year. Definitely looking forward to it.”
Speaking of touring, it is a large part of Robin’s everyday life; being on the road for months on end, both playing shows and working on tours. However, that has changed greatly at the moment with the unpredictability of the music scene’s future. She has essentially been on a forced sabbatical given the current state of global health and explains how she’s been dealing with it.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s depressing, because you have no idea what’s going to happen. I see people saying they wouldn’t go to a show in September or October because they’re still scared, which is definitely understandable. For me though, there’s two sides to it, and I know this may sound terrible, people may even dislike me for it but I’m not fully concerned about the Coronavirus or getting sick. I understand that there are people who are sick and have died from this. But if I worry about every single disease and issue out there, I would probably be heavily medicated and locked in a room. I want to be safe but I understand the more this goes on, people get more secluded and stuck. The restrictions seemed to disappear during the protests so it’s really hard to keep up with everything; I guess we just have to wait it out! “
“I’m just focusing on a few things at the moment to keep myself busy; I’ve been getting involved with a couple of charity organisations, working with a band on some stuff. I also broke my wrist a couple of months ago and haven’t been able to play which is a bummer but I had surgery and I’m recovering now, getting therapy so just focusing on that. But I am looking forward to releasing new music.”
Robin is undoubtedly one of the most passionate artists I’ve ever spoken to, having been in bands since the 90’s, playing different styles of metal with each one. Marvelling at how she manages being in a few different bands while also working on tours full time, Robin explained how despite hurdles along the way with her bands, she loves being a part of it all.
“They’re all different styles of music within the metal genre, which is great and definitely keeps things interesting. Derketa is more doom and death - Sharon takes care of a lot of the writing for the band. I contribute in a few ways, sometimes with a riff but mostly with ideas for songs, so it doesn't really stress me out that much. There’s actually two new songs right now and maybe a little bit more. We’re hopefully going to record soon but everything’s kind of hold at the moment. I usually fly up to Pittsburgh where they are or we meet somewhere if we’re going to work on our music. I was going to move to Pittsburgh for the band but then I tour so much, it didn’t really matter where I was.
“With Gruesome, they usually write everything and I take care of all the business, touring, etc. However, with one of my other bands, Castrator, it’s a little bit different because Carolina and I would get together and try to write stuff but we’ve had difficulties because we don’t live near each other and we’ve had a problem finding the right guitar player. We’ve had a couple of fantastic guitarists but unfortunately they were just not what we were looking for on the record. Technology makes writing music and being in a band, much easier too! So I guess we’ll see what happens!”
Castrator was started a few years ago by three very strong, incredible and talented women in metal, with the purpose of just getting some really heavy, brutal music out there. While they have released a couple of tracks, the band is working on releasing their first album and hopefully soon!
“Carolina and Mallika were starting the band and I’m friends with Carolina. So it was on Barge to Hell, I believe, that she spoke to me about it and I thought about how fun it would be to do, so I got involved. It’s such a great band to be a part of; we don’t usually talk about it or use our names because we want people to just like the music and not care about who’s in it or the fact that we’re women playing metal. I mean with a name like ‘Castrator’ you’re going to get asked about it but for me, I don’t see it as a ‘feminist’ thing. It’s just hilarious and brutal. Also, we don’t have to worry about band photos - it’s all darkness! ”
“The search for a guitarist has set us back. We’ve had times where we’ve thought about if we still want to do this or not but we got past it. The album is finally rewritten and we’ll hopefully record this year as well, but we’re still looking for a guitar player. - it just hasn’t worked out for us yet and I don’t know why but hopefully we find one soon.”
Robin is without a doubt, a source of inspiration for me, personally, as well as for many around the world. For someone that has so much experience, writing and performing music, touring but also working on the business and management side of the scene, it’s incredible to see just how excited she still gets when talking about it all. She explained how the passion is still strong after all these years, despite the difficult moments.
“I love doing it. I mean, every time I think I’m going to stop doing this, because you can get burnt out, I go back out there and do tours again. Sometimes I’m away from home for a few months doing back to back tours but it’s what I do. I love the music and the bands that I work for, I get to see friends all over the world. What better way than making a living, it’s something, may not be much but you get to go to a metal concert everyday. It does not suck at all, in my eyes! I’m getting paid to watch Psycroptic, well ok, that’s awesome.”
“It’s a pretty good deal. I’ve been doing this for so long, but I’ve never really gotten tired of it. There have been times and experience with bands that I don’t like as much as others of course, but overall, pretty much every band I’ve toured with, I’ve enjoyed to some degree. I like talking to them about music all the time, it’s great. I do get some people though, who are on tour but not there for the music - it’s just their job and I’ll get some people on bigger tours, that they think that I’m like that. I’ve had people quiz me about the music - it’s crazy, but I’m like, alright, I’ll play your game.”
Some of the craziest tours she’s been a part of? Her answer shouldn’t shock you given just how much she tours!
“The craziest and the best, it’s hard to say. The craziest ones are the most memorable ones that I’ve remembered for years and one of those is definitely Slayer; any tour with Slayer is usually my favourite. King Diamond as well! Also, any European or American festival that has Metallica on it, is definitely my favourite - everybody can fight me on that one, doesn’t matter! I love James Hetfield, I don’t care what anybody has to say about Metallica!”
I also put forth the hardest question of our conversation and asked Robin to choose between ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ or ‘Leprosy’ to which she had the most diplomatic answer as a true Death fan.
“Oh god, I’ve been asked this question once before and it’s a hard one! But I’d have to pick ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ only because it’s so friggin raw and heavy and I love it so much but ‘Leprosy’ at the same time was THAT Death record….ugh...I don’t know. It’s just that record. It’s a classic! So ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ for the rawness of a debut release and ‘Leprosy’ for being a classic.”
Robin left me and those who read this with some very Florideath words of wisdom.
“I would just say, keep on truckin’! Which just means, keep the faith that this will end soon, keep the focus on writing and playing music. Come up with new ways to get your music out there and support each other during this time. That’s all I got haha! Keep on truckin’.”