AN NCS INTERVIEW: RYAN J. PARKS (CONTEMPLATING MURDER, CONQUEROR WORM, POETS OF THE PLAGUE)
(Comrade Aleks rejoins us with this interview of Ryan J. Parks, vocalist/guitarist of Contemplating Murder and a former member of Conqueror Worm and Poets of the Plague.)
Contemplating Murder is an extreme band that mixes death, thrash, and doom metal with other minor elements in their music. It was created in 2014 by Ryan J. Parks (guitars, vocals), Alan Evans (bass), and Gregg Drummond (drums). With only one self-titled album in the discography, they have a longer history indeed, as Ryan started another band of this kind in 1996, Poets Of The Plague, and then after its disbanding spent a few years with Conqueror Worm.
We had a talk with Ryan, and here’s his story. A story of extreme metal, murder, metal, horror, death, and metal.
Hi Ryan! How are you? What’s your current most actual project today?
Things are great man, thanks. I’m working my ass off being self-employed but I enjoy what I do, so I can’t complain. Currently I am jamming with the death-doom-sludge band Contemplating Murder. I’m lead vocals and guitars.
As I understand, you started Poets Of The Plague in 1996. What were your intentions when you formed this band?
My best friend Renee Maxwell (drummer) and I always wanted to play metal since we were little kids — the heavier the better. We were (and still are) huge horror movie fans as well, and wanted to incorporate that into the mix. So basically, we wanted to make a sick band, really heavy, with lyrics about the real horrors in the world. I’m a huge movie guy so I like to make songs into story-boards, get the listener involved. I’ve always done that, and I think I always will. When we had Al Noxious (Alex Spellman, bass) join the band we totally made all of that shit happen. His bass was thick and well-rounded and with Renee’s drumming — the backbone was just heavy as fuck. My guitar playing has always been doom-based with some old school thrash and gallop; it turned out 5 years of really great stuff.
Poets Of The Plague is a crazy mix of influences including death and doom metal. What were your main influences back then? What are your roots?
At the time of Poets of the Plague I think my main influences were Entombed, Obituary, Acid Bath, and Fudge Tunnel. I really liked the slower death metal and the newer sludge stuff. My roots have always been bands like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, as well as doom pioneers Trouble, Cathedral, and Saint Vitus. I grew up buying albums from Mercyful Fate, Venom, Slayer, Exodus, Helstar, and Metallica when they came out in the 1980s, as a kid.
Poets Of The Plague – I Am You
The band recorded a self-titled full-length album in 1999. It’s pretty dark and sick — how did you manage to reach that sound in the studio?
To be honest, that sound was from doing way too many tracks — it is thick as shit with a wall of heavy, but ultimately we overdid it. We had plans to make the heaviest album ever — haha, and just went over our heads with it. We had a friend record it in his house — his thing was actually doing movie soundtracks, not really live bands. We had actors on that album play parts and we had special sound effects and all kinds of shit. Personally and by our fan-base, our demos were much better, and better received world-wide as well. The “Plagued” demo shot us interviews and reviews all over the world, we had a great ride with that one. And right before the full-length we did a demo called “Drained” that was made for a movie and was the best production sound we ever had. It was recorded in the same studio as Michael Jackson and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. But, shortly after the full-length album, the band broke up.
How did you describe to your friend from the studio that kind of sound you wanted to gain? Did he really take part in this session?
We just told him we wanted it heavy and thick — like a wall of sound hitting you in the face. Unfortunately, we thought it came out kind of hollow — like it was in a tunnel, more black metal style. We have been told by fans that if you listen to the album on headphones it’s ten times better, haha. Yes he was a part of it — he wrote the keyboards and did some voice acting as well.
What about the lyrics? What kind of topics did you want to reveal through Poets Of The Plague stuff?
The name itself is something I came up with — I wanted to write lyrics about all the bad shit people and society do as kind of like a warning to what more bad shit was to come in the future. So we wrote about drugs, rape, murder — horrible real-life shit. We did a four-song concept on the album that I invented about a molested priest who eventually rapes a little boy, and the guilt drives him to suicide. I wrote a song about Edgar Allan Poe and his downfall, and his alcohol and drug abuse. Alex wrote a song about James Huberty and the McDonald’s Massacre.
Why did you try to make your lyrics sound realistic? Doom music in general is rather about escapism.
I’ve been a writer since I was a little kid, Renee and Al, also. So we like depth in the lyrics — I associate more of the fantasy stuff with traditional metal. Personally, I think doom and sludge metal should have stronger lyrical content. The riffs (at least my riffs) are creepy and meant to be that way. All the material I have written throughout my life is haunting, so it makes since for me to write haunting lyrics to it. I like scary shit.
Why did the band split up soon after the release of its first full-length?
We didn’t like the album and the way it came out. We loved the music but hated the production. It caused problems. I was on a television show that one of us didn’t want me to be on because they thought it would be bad publicity. One of us had a lot of money invested in the album and that had issues as well. So we all went separate ways. Renee joined a well-known local band in Los Angeles called Unsanctified, and Alex and I started the band Conqueror Worm.
Ryan, as you say, you spent a few years with Conqueror Worm. The band tended toward a sludgy and doomy sound, and you managed to record the album Sometimes Dead Is Better. What’s a short story of this band?
Al Noxious and I started this band with our drummer Leviathan (Dave), an old friend of Al’s from a band called Illuminati Mommy. Conqueror Worm was my baby. I really wanted to make a heavy album for the sake of being heavy, not fast heavy, but crushing doom-sludge heavy. And I wanted it to be a horror-metal album, all about horror movies and demons and ghosts, etc. We totally made that happen. And I love that album, everything about it.
It was always a goal of Alex and myself to just be heavy — slow, chunky, groove, and we did that. I am very proud of that album. It’s too bad we didn’t play longer and write more music. Alex was in law school and it took up a lot of time; Leviathan and I had some issues, and ultimately if Al wasn’t going to play, I didn’t want to continue. He was too much a part of the sound; I didn’t think anyone else could be as heavy on the bass as he could. I think I still believe that, to this day. He just couldn’t be replaced.
Conqueror Worm – Till Death Do Us Part
What drove you to start Contemplating Murder? The self-titled album sounds damn tight and focused — you know, it sounds absolutely thoughtful from the first track ’til the last. How did you come to this?
Thank you for the kind words, I appreciate it. My son Zack is a metal head and it had been a very long time since I had played live or written any music for a band. He was going to go into the US Army after his last year of high school, and as a gift to him (and I suppose to myself) I wanted to play again. I wanted Zack to see me play live at least once before he moved away.
Originally, it was going to be a Poets of the Plague reunion. Renee, Al, and I rehearsed only a few times and it just didn’t happen. I got together a couple of my childhood friends, Gregg Drummond (drums) and Alan Evans (bass and vocals) and I started writing songs and throwing it at them to see if it would stick, and eventually it did. As for the sound, I totally rekindled the same vibe of Conqueror Worm and Poets of the Plague — it’s just who I am. I wanted a little bit of death, a lot of sludge and doom, and I wanted horror movies and literature to be a part of it. I work in the horror movie and literature business now, so it’s actually a part of my everyday life.
I am very happy with how the album came out, and the sound of it all. It’s exactly what I wanted. Gregg and Alan are a huge part of that — we all did it together. I brought Poets of the Plague material to them in the beginning, but in the end we ended up creating Contemplating Murder material instead. We kept one song from the original Poets of the Plague on the album, and we did one cover, the rest is all us.
Ryan can you tell us more about your work in the horror movie and literature business?
I own my own business called Dark Parks — I specialize in rare books on the occult, witchcraft, and horror literature. I also sell horror movie memorabilia and collectibles like autographs, original movie posters from the 1960s-1980s, and horror movie toys. I have been in the horror movie and literature world most of my life. I know a lot of the actors and writers in the field. I love what I do and I can’t complain. If I had the money and time I would write and direct movies — instead I write music and kind of do the same thing. but with lyrics and guitars. I suppose I’m one of those guys like King Diamond or Rob Zombie, although Zombie made enough money at music to eventually be able to make real movies.
Well, as it is business… What kind of stuff do people buy more eagerly nowadays? And how do you value modern horror movies tendencies? I’ve found time finally to watch “VVitch” and this movie is damn impressive! I didn’t expect that.
Most of my clients are like me, and still just love the classic 1980s stuff — Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, that stuff. But like heavy metal, there are lot of genres — gore and slasher, vampire flicks, classic Universal monsters, supernatural, killer clowns, etc. It’s hard to impress me with modern horror, but every now and again there is a good one.
I just recently saw the movie Terrifier — it is a fantastic slasher flick about a killer clown. There is also a great flick that came out a couple years ago called The Void, that is very much like an H.P. Lovecraft slasher. The new IT film was great; I like both versions — the movie and the TV series. I look forward to the second part. I am a big Stephen King fan. I also love Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft — all these guys came to me through heavy metal as a kid. For example I found out about Lovecraft because of the tombstone on the Iron Maiden album Live After Death. Horror and heavy metal go hand in hand, and I love that.
Once again you mixed a wide range of influences into one work — were you the only author of this stuff? Or do you share songwriting duties with other members?
We’re a band — we bounce shit off each other. I wrote most of the material and all the lyrics but Alan helped a lot and keeps me in check on the length of songs. Gregg is one of my best friends and has learned to play drums much more than he used too — his beats are heavy and keep it all in place.
Contemplating Murder – Poetry In Madness
How much time did you spend on the album in a studio?
I think we took like a month. The recording process was maybe a week total if it were to be back-to back days, and then the process of mixing and mastering followed. We recorded at Dungeon Studios up in the Hollywood Hills so we had to make multiple trips on weekends or late weeknights after work. The drive for us was like an hour each way.
How do the lyrics of Contemplating Murder differ from the texts you wrote for your other bands?
There’s not much difference, it’s still in the same vein of the other bands — first and foremost I like to write little horror stories into my music, secondly we do real-life true crime type of stuff. That’s pretty much it. I have voiced my opinion to all my band mates in the last 20 years that I don’t want to do politics, it’s not who I am and it’s not fair to fans to have to choose a side.
What’s your position when you’re talking about real murders and so on? What attracted you to these bastards?
I am not pro — I think these guys are sick assholes. But I won’t lie, their lives fascinate me and that is usually what I write about. The perspective of what made them who they are. What evil demons inside their head made them become Mr. Hyde instead of staying as Dr. Jekyll. Was it their parents’ fault? Was it their environment growing up? Did they have a certain breaking point? Or, as in most cases, are they just fucking evil?
As I understand, the album is DIY release. Is it a problem to find a proper label for the band? And what about gigs? How often and with what kind of bands do you usually share stages?
In Los Angeles there really aren’t many labels looking to sign heavy metal bands anymore. They want bubble-gum pop bands and rap. We’ve been approached before but at a cost we didn’t want. We also had an offer from a world-wide distro to put out our album with no cost but we would have had to cut the cover song and parts of a couple other songs because they didn’t want legal liabilities to get in the way — we agreed, but nothing ever came of it. In today’s metal scene, self-producing is the way to go for most underground bands, it’s easy and it’s cheap.
As for gigs — I hand-pick them and we only play several a year, which is to our benefit because we choose the lineup and we always pack the clubs. Los Angeles and Hollywood is still very much a pay-to-play club scene, and I hate that. So when I can run the show we don’t have to deal with that, and unlike other promoters, I can actually pay all the bands playing. We play with everybody and every style — thrash, doom, sludge, old school traditional, etc. We have made a lot of friends in the scene and have helped quite a few bands with exposure, and vice-versa. Because our sound has so many styles to it we can have a lot of various bands play with us and the crowd always digs it.
What are your plans for the next Contemplating Murder album?
Well, we have a new (second) guitarist who rips. His name is Karlo Prodigalidad and he plays a lot like Dimebag Darrell, which is his main influence. Karlo (aka Mad Dog) has given us a huge boost in our sound and our style. I was never really a lead guitarist, so now we have someone who can shred on top of my sludgy riffs, and it’s pretty fucking awesome. Alan has taken over a lot more duties on writing music; several of the new songs are jams he brought to the table. Gregg has gotten much better in the last few years and does a lot more original and creative beats than before. We are moving in a more groove-oriented style than before — more foot-tapping and head-banging heaviness. We are all very happy about it.
As for a second album, we already have five or six new songs. Now we need to revise those with Karlo’s input and then write a few more. We are hoping that Karlo records it. He’s a talented guy and is very technical savvy in and out of the music world. I am confident if we do a new record, he will be the one recording it. At least I hope so, and so does my wallet.
Thanks for the interview my friend, it’s been a pleasure walking through the past and looking into the future. If anybody reading this is interested in Contemplating Murder you can find us on Facebook, Bandcamp, and Reverb Nation. You can download the entire album for only $5.00 USD on the Bandcamp site. We also have a song on the horror movie Killer Waves soundtrack that was recently put out on DVD. The movie features Phil Anselmo, Frank from Suffocation, members of Gwar, and other metal icons. And we are on the latest CD compilation from The Pain Fucktory magazine, out of Peru; the issue was published and put out world-wide last month.