Graveyard is a band from Barcelona, Spain, who I came across through their superb new EP released by Pulverised Records, The Altar of Sculpted Skulls (reviewed here). It caused me to ponder the question how a band can distinguish itself playing “old school” death metal without tinkering with the fundamental elements of the music in a way that destroys its authenticity. Graveyard pull off that trick; they succeed where other bands fail. They are also one of the few bands from Spain I’ve heard who devote themselves successfully to traditional death metal.
I had the chance to do an e-mail interview with Graveyard’s lead guitarist, Javi Bastard, who also runs his own recording studio. His answers are smart, funny, honest, insightful, and very interesting. Topics include Graveyard’s philosophy about music, observations about why Spain lagged much of Europe in the development of metal and about the current scene, the band’s approach to recording that old-school sound, recommendations about other Spanish bands, and future Graveyard releases. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I should confess up front that I’m a newcomer to Graveyard, with “The Altar of Sculpted Skulls” being my first exposure to your music. How would you say it compares to the band’s previous releases?
Javi Bastard: I think “The Altar of Sculpted Skulls” sounds more spontaneous than our previous works, at least more than “One with the Dead”, in my opinion. The 4 new songs on “Altar…” were written and rehearsed in just 1 month or so while the songs on “One with the Dead” took us much longer… When we wrote/rehearsed “One with the Dead”, the band had existed for just 1 year and a half or so, now we’re getting closer to our 5th anniversary as a band so I think that explains a few things. In my opinion, “Altar…” is the first GRAVEYARD release where you can actually find a band with its “own style” (considering the small room left for “own style” when you play this kind of classic Death Metal). “Into the Mausoleum” is a whole different thing; it was written, rehearsed and recorded in 2 alcoholic days back in 2007. It was released as an MCD, but of course I see it as a demo released on CD.
Did you have specific goals for “Altar”, beyond an effort to simply create more good songs in the Graveyard style?
J.B.: You nailed it. Our only goal is to create good songs, no matter if they sound “original” or not. I mean, MOTÖRHEAD, the best band ever, have released more or less the same album for almost 40 years and only idiots complain. Know why? Because they still know how to make good songs. We’re not even close to MOTÖRHEAD, of course, but we have the same philosophy. A good song will always be a good song, no matter if the riffs are something completely new or just the same old riff a little bit modified. Personally, when I listen to music, I want my ears to explode and it barely happens with bands that try as hard as possible to sound “original”…
How do you feel about the results you achieved on “Altar”? Do you think the EP captures the sound and feel of where Graveyard wants to be in its music?
J.B.: “One with the Dead” has a slightly better production. It was recorded back in early 2009 so my production skills are a lot more better these days, BUT, we didn’t want a production as clean as we had in “OWTD”. I think that album needs a bit more rawness to be honest. So this time we decided to just track all the instruments and do a little mix / mastering. I think it took us something like 4 o or 5 days (ridiculous compared with the eternal mix of “One with the Dead” that lasted for 1 month or so…). From now on, I think we should follow the “Altar…” kind of production.
I suppose every listener can’t help but connect new music to things they’ve heard before, even if the connections may not be the ones that most influenced the band. As you know from my review, “Altars” reminded me of traditional, late-80’s and early-90’s death metal, especially Swedish bands like Carnage, Dismember, Entombed, and Grave, along with Asphyx- or Bolt Thrower-style death/doom. Were those bands among your influences? And what others have had an impact on the development of your own music?
J.B.: Basically, I listen to the same Death Metal bands that I did back in ’94 when I discovered Death Metal — MORBID ANGEL, ENTOMBED, ASPHYX, CARCASS, PESTILENCE, NECROPHOBIC, EDGE OF SANITY, CARNAGE, OBITUARY, DEATH, MORGOTH, BOLT THROWER, UNLEASHED, GOREFEST… And I think it is the same with the other guys in the band. I mean, I know there have been lots of new bands appearing on the last 2 or 3 years. I have listened to some of them and even enjoyed some of those albums, but when it is time to write, dude, we always go back to the classics. If you add bands like CELTIC FROST, CANDLEMASS, RUNNING WILD, IRON MAIDEN, SLAYER, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, VENOM, BATHORY, MOTÖRHEAD or MERCYFUL FATE, you will probably find the GRAVEYARD formula. I would like to tell you that we are very inspired by an Armenian band that released a 7” in ’87 and then disappeared in a shroud of mystery, but it is simply not true. Sorry. Maybe we’re a bit predictable. Or we’re getting old and we don’t give a fuck about being “true” according to nowaday’s poor standards…
Could you give us a short sketch of how Graveyard came into existence?
J.B. Man, I hate this question, hahahaha. Ok, let’s go with it one last time… GRAVEYARD was born back in 2001 or 2002 when Julkarn [vocalist/bassist], myself, and a long-time friend discussed about creating a classic Death Metal band one night in the bar. This friend of ours (Katu Marus) created the logo and we even recorded some cheap demos on PC with a drum machine. They sounded like shit and at the time we had so many other musical projects that GRAVEYARD remained on hold.
In 2007 I met Gusi, our current drummer. He was a lot younger than us, but he was a very good drummer and had the same musical taste (old, outdated, unfashionable), so I convinced him to join us for a weekend with instruments, Death Metal records, and countless beers. I also took some recording gear with me, so in 2 days we created 4 songs, rehearsed just a bit, and recorded them, and that was “Into the Mausoleum”. Initially, it was just another project, but the demo we released got some serious reviews and BlackSeed Productions offered us to release it on CD, so we agreed. The project was getting more and more serious and we were having such a good time with the whole thing that we finally decided to find another guitar player (Llorenç) and start acting like a proper band (rehearsing, doing shows, blah blah blah…).
Since then, we have released a bunch of records and splits. We’re a very active band. Actually I think we have been active full-time since 2007, working on the band every day, every week, every month, every year. I look back and it is very difficult for me to convince myself that we started in 2007. I mean, we have done so many things that it seems like we’ve been active for 20 years!!!!!! Over those almost 5 years, we have shared the stage with many bands like NECROS CHRISTOS, KAAMOS, DEAD CONGREGATION, NIFELHEIM, DEMIGOD, MACHETAZO, TORMENTED, NOMINON, ASPHYX, HAIL OF BULLETS, NECRODEATH, PROCLAMATION, AVULSED, INTERMENT, LIE IN RUINS, DECAYED, DISHAMMER, MORBOSIDAD…
No doubt, Spain has produced some excellent extreme metal bands whose names are known outside the country, yet it seems to me that fewer Spanish bands have established an international following than bands from other European countries such as those in Scandinavia, France, Germany, and Italy. I don’t know if you agree with me, but if you do, why do you think that is?
J.B.: It is difficult for me to give you the right answer. Spain had a fascist / religious dictatorship until 1975, which means that as a country we didn’t have any kind of serious Rock/Metal scene until the 80’s — too late in my opinion — and it affected the way this music evolved here in the sense that we were always late. When Thrash Metal was a trend all over the world, the first Thrash Metal bands appeared in Spain, and it was the same with Death or Black, we had a terrible delay compared with the rest of Europe. Besides, the level of English language knowledge here in Spain is pretty low, probably among the lowest in Europe. It affected the bands when it was time to get in contact with the outside.
In the early 90’s, Spain had hundreds of Death Metal bands and you probably don’t know many of them. It happened because most of them never did try to trade tapes or get in contact with the rest of the European scene (because of the language, basically). So when you combine all those facts, you get something closer to the Spanish reality of the past years. Fortunately, in the last 10 years or so things seem to have changed. We live in a global world thanks to the internet, and this delay we always had has kind of disappeared. Actually, we have some bands nowadays in Spain that are leaders, not followers, if you know what I mean. And that’s something that never happened before in the 80’s or 90’s.
Speaking of Spanish metal bands, the ones whose names I know, such as Noctem, Haemorrhage, Human Mincer, Frozen, and Dishammer, really aren’t playing the style of music that Graveyard plays. Is there an old-school death metal scene in Spain? Or is Graveyard kind of the lone warrior manning the ramparts?
J.B.: The retro/old school/classic kind of Death Metal has never been popular here in Spain compared to Grindcore, Crust, Grind/Death or Brutal Death. Actually, I think there are only 4 or 5 more bands in the same style of GRAVEYARD and half of them are just bedroom projects. I’m cool with that, otherwise the Spanish scene would be flooded and that never helps.
Just listening to the music, I get the sense that you guys probably don’t give a shit about the flavors of death metal that are riding a wave of current popularity these days, e.g., deathcore and rapid-fire tech-death. How do you feel about the rise in popularity of those genres? And are they as popular in Spain as they are everywhere else?
J.B.: Of course it is popular here, basically because it is the trendy side of Death Metal, and Spain and trends have always been two words that go together, hehehe. I don’t care about those bands. In my world Death Metal starts with MORBID ANGEL and ends with CARNAGE, you know what I mean? I don’t consider all those deathcore and technical ultra-fast brutal bands as Death Metal. It is Death Metal as long as it sounds evil and dark. Where’s the evilness or darkness in a band like JOB FOR A COWBOY (not to mention the retarded name)? Come on, let’s face it. In Spain most of the average metalheads consider AMON AMORTH to be a Death Metal band and they think they’re extreme because they like that, so go figure…
Having said that, who are some of the Spanish metal bands who you would recommend to our readers?
J.B.: ERED, MORBID FLESH, INSULTERS, BANISHED FROM INFERNO, LUX DIVINA, FOSCOR, PROFUNDIS TENEBRARUM, DISHAMMER, BALMOG, DANTALION, ATARAXY, MACHETAZO, TEITANBLOOD, PROCLAMATION, LOOKING FOR AN ANSWER, FROM NOWHERE, KORGULL THE EXTERMINATOR, DECAPITATED CHRIST, TORT, DOMAINS, SHEMHAMPHORASH, REDIMONI, DENIAL, AVULSED, NUMEN…
I’m kind of jumping around with these questions, and this one is about gear and recording technology. First of all, who did the recording, mixing, and mastering work on “Altar”?
J.B.: I, with the help of the rest of the guys, take care of all the GRAVEYARD production and recording duties. I have my own professional studio, it is actually my daily job, so there’s no need to go to another studio as long as I have mine. “Altar…” was completely done at Moontower Studios, from tracking to mastering.
Even though I’m not a musician, I’m trying to educate myself about how different sounds and tones are created. What did you guys do to get that traditional, massive, evil guitar tone on the EP — and those echoing bestial vocals?
J.B.: Nothing special to be honest. The guitars we use are mainly Gibson, a Marshall amp, and some cheap pedals (a noise reduction pedal and the infamous Boss HMII distortion pedal). We just mix the distortion from the pedal with the distortion from the amp. That’s what we have been doing since day one and it works, I think it is one of the coolest distortions out there. Vocals? No big deal here, just Julkarn’s growls with a bit of reverb, delay, and whisky, as simple as that.
Speaking of evil, I thought the artwork for “Altar” really did a great job capturing the malignant atmosphere of the music. I really liked the strictly black-and-white color choice as well as the dense detail in the picture. Who did that cover for you and who created the horror-show font for the band logo and EP title?
J.B.: Everything on “The Altar of Sculpted Skulls” was done by Matt “Putrid” Carr from Putrid Gore Art (www.putridgore.com). He’s a genius and has worked with some respected bands like ASPHYX, AUTOPSY, CIANIDE, COFFINS, IMPETIGO, HOODED MENACE… I think his artwork combines perfectly with our music, so I’m sure we will work with him on our next record. The font for the band logo and EP title were also done by him.
Jumping back to the music, I’m sure you saw in the review how much I liked the purely instrumental track “Cult of the Shadows”. It’s not exactly common to see an instrumental song on a traditional death metal album. How did that song come about and what led you to include it on the EP?
J.B.: We included another instrumental on our previous album “One with the Dead”. It was called “Abandoned Churches” and while still strictly instrumental, it was really different from ‘Cult’. While “Abandoned…” took us about a month to finish, “Cult of the Shadows” was written in 20 minutes, not joking! I also have to give some credit to Federico Fernández Giordano, a great blues guitar-player friend of ours. He recorded that cool lead guitar solo at the beginning of the song (the first lead solo actually). We all like “Cult of the Shadows”, so we will probably re-record it for our next album, adding 1 or 2 minutes of music and vocals, of course.
Another of the many things I really liked about the EP were the guitar solo’s. They were varied and seemed to me to suit each song really well. Who was responsible for those? And did they just jump out in a burst of inspiration, fully formed, or was each one the result of a lot of trial and error?
J.B.: Lead guitar solos are done by me and Llorenç. We’re not your typical shredders/wankers and we know about our limitations as musicians, of course, but we try to create lead guitar solos that you can remember and sing along. I like the way MORBID ANGEL or NECROPHOBIC used to create lead guitar solos, you know, they always tried to record catchy melodies that were easy to remember. By the way, most of those solos are more or less improvised. I know how Llorenç plays and he knows how I play, so we try to use our skills depending on the song’s demands. I prefer to create simple lead solos that can be played on stage being drunk, that’s the secret. I can tell you I have done many recordings at the studio with other bands, and their guitar players sometimes record solos that they will not be able to play live. That’s a fucking stupid thing to do.
On to another subject: Pulverised Records has released the EP in CD form. That’s a great label for . . . pulverizing metal. How did you hook up with Pulverised, and is the relationship one that you expect will continue after the release of “Altar”?
J.B.: “The Altar of Sculpted Skulls” was supposed to be released by a new label created by a respected ex-member of the old english Grindcore / Death Metal scene. But due to some personal circumstances, that label never got going, so we were forced to look for another record deal. We sent some e-mails and Pulverised were the ones who offered us the best conditions, so we signed with them. The vinyl version of “Altar…” was released by Doomentia Records some months ago. I don’t know what will happen in the future. Our deal with Pulverised is just for the MCD. Of course we talked about the next LP, but we must consider all our options before deciding what to do in the future.
Speaking of the future, “Altar” was originally released on vinyl last summer by Doomentia, as you said, so a fair amount of time has passed since those songs were “put to bed”. I assume the band have been working on new songs since then? What are your plans for the next release?
J.B.: Yeah, there has been a 7-month delay between the LP and the MCD release. Pulverised had too many releases before GRAVEYARD, so we just had to wait. We recorded 2 songs last week for a 7” Split with Polish blood-dripping Death Metallists ULCER. We have also written and rehearsed about 75% of the new album, so I’m sure we will be able to start the recording sessions in 2 or 3 months. There are some other 7” splits soon to be released with NOMINON, WINTERWOLF, and Spanish REDIMONI. I don’t exactly know when all those splits will be released. It’s up to the labels, they have all the material and just need to release it!.
To wrap this up, is there any other Graveyard news you’d like to share with our readers?
J.B: Well, I think I have told you everything!!. We will be busy until May with the new album and will not play many shows until we finish recording. After that we will start booking shows, festivals, whatever…
Thanks a bunch for making time to participate in this interview. Best of luck to all of you.
J.B.: Thank you for your support, it’s really appreciated!! Hope to see you someday and drink some beers! We hope to be able to desecrate American soil with some Metal of Death sometime!!!