(On May 27 Hells Headbangers will release the new third album by the Texas death metal band Church of Disgust, and in this extensive new interview Comrade Aleks talked with Church vocalist/guitarist Dustin James.)
You see the band’s name, their albums’ or song titles, and you already know what’s it all about. Church of Disgust has twelve years of savage sonic mayhem behind it – Unworldly Summoning (2014), Dread Ritual EP (2015), Veneration of Filth (2016), Consumed by Slow Putrefaction EP (2020), and now Weakest Is the Flesh (2022)… For sure you can expect distilled macabre death metal built on influences of some classic bands and inspired by horror literature and sometimes movies.
Church of Disgust’s four priests run this mass knowing not doubt or mercy, and they are Dustin James (guitars, vocals), Joshua Bokemeyer (guitars), Travis Andrews (bass), and Dwane Allen (drums). And today is the day when we’ll learn more about the good old death metal ways of Texas.
Hail Church of Disgust! How are you? What’s going on in your camp?
Greetings and felicitations! Dustin here, doing great from a personal standpoint. As a band, we’ve been relatively quiet, as we prepare to enjoy the overripe fruits of our labor. Weakest is the Flesh — our third full-length – will be out next month. We’re going on six years since our last album (Veneration of Filth), so we’re pretty excited to get it out there.
Dustin, the band was formed in 2010, and your debut Unworldly Summoning was released in 2014. How was your vision of death metal formed? What did you aim to fulfill in this album?
At the time, my friend Tim and I formed the band as a creative outlet with the vision to play primitive death metal, the way that we appreciated it as listeners. Prior to the debut album, we put out two demo tapes and were still developing our sound, and a bit of that carried over into Unworldly Summoning. Our goal with that album was to deliver a heavy and raw album to a great label that was willing to take a chance on us – that label being Spain’s Memento Mori Records. Whether or not we achieved that is up for debate, some people either really like or strongly dislike our first album.
How comfortable for you was it to collaborate with Memento Mori? It seems to be a very dedicated and die-hard label, and Raul has good taste towards death metal.
Raul and Memento Mori were a pleasure to work with! He released our first two albums on CD and gave us some great exposure when we were complete unknowns. Raul is extremely dedicated and has a very clear vision of what he wants to establish with his label, and I find that to be very respectable. He was patient and honest with us, and always delivered exactly what he promised.
And what’s the difference in working ethics between Memento Mori and Hells Headbangers Records, if there’s any? It should be easier to work with local guys.
I’d say location, as you mentioned, would be the major difference. Memento Mori operates out of Spain, and HHB is in the USA, which is a big help with international shipping being so incredibly expensive now. Hells Headbangers also is releasing our album on three formats – CD, tape and vinyl — while Memento Mori released our previous albums on CD and other labels would release the other formats.
I wouldn’t say that one label has a stronger work ethic than another by any means, but multiple formats and increased distribution being offered by HHB is a big plus. We’re very grateful to any label that has made an investment with us and released something of ours.
Dustin, you’re the only remaining founding member. What didn’t work with the original lineup? Were your demands to other members so disgusting?
Nothing that juicy, Tim just had other priorities and passions in his life outside of music that he wanted to pursue. At that point, we were already jamming and writing what would become our first demo with Josh Bokemeyer, so Josh and I decided to continue without Tim. Josh has been on everything Church has ever recorded, so I’d consider him an original member through and through. Shortly after releasing the first album, we rounded out our lineup by adding Dwane Allen on drums and Travis Andrews on bass, and that’s been our steady lineup since 2014.
From the very beginning you mixed death metal with horror-inspired lyrics. How do you see the cultural roots of this phenomenon? Would you say that it’s an American death metal feature? Can you imagine Church of Disgust’s songs with another concept?
Horrific lyrical themes have been our go-to, primarily by way of inspiration from books, with a few exceptions where dreams and historical events have been drawn from. I wouldn’t consider it a uniquely American approach, as death metal bands across the globe have used themes of horror/gore/occult themes since death metal’s inception.
As for imagining Church of Disgust with lyrical themes outside of the horrific, I would have to say no. Although reality and the general state of the world are definitely horrifying, I’m not into political/topical themes or goofy outer space stuff.
I saw that your lyrics are tagged as “occult” as well. Is it just another side of the horror aspect? Or are you really into that?
I personally have no interest in the occult or Satanism, any of that stuff. Any “occult” fare mentioned in my lyrics have been channeled by literary interests (primary the works of Brian Keene and H.P. Lovecraft).
Are you meaning that you’re more into horror literature than horror movies? Which one of these two is a stronger influence for you?
Books have always been my biggest influence. They’re very immersive, and you can absorb them at your own pace. This may be blasphemy to some, but I honestly don’t watch nearly as many horror movies as I used to. I stay pretty busy and am a new father as well, so getting the time to digest a full movie has been increasingly rare. I do still have my go-to horror classics, and there are some good newer horror movies as well that I enjoy.
There were two years between the Unworldly Summoning and Veneration of Filth albums. How do you assess the band’s development on your second album?
I’d say that those two years saw a lot of growth, both in the band ranks and our abilities as musicians. While I won’t suggest that our songs are “technical” by any means, it does take a certain amount of skill to write songs that are interesting and catchy. Our old demos and first album were VERY primitive, and that was with Josh and I pushing our musical prowess to the absolute limits. Between Unworldly and Veneration, Josh and I got our shit together and added two killer dedicated musicians – Dwane and Travis. We developed our “chops” playing live and touring, and writing became a collaborative effort.
On Veneration of Filth, I feel that the songwriting got better, as did the recording process. Every Church release has been recorded by the band, initially with just Josh handling the engineering, but this time around, we recorded this album at Dwane’s old house. We were fortunate enough to have Dwane and Josh’s recording equipment combined, as well as some borrowed gear from a few friends. The songwriting effort was more collaborative with all four members, and we took more time getting things right.
What’s your worst and best experience of touring with Church of Disgust? Is it worth riding here and there, spending your time, nerves, and money after all?
The best experiences are always when people turn out and actually enjoy themselves during our set – headbanging, thrashing, etc… playing to a room of cool kids afraid to mess up their vintage longsleeves is pretty lame. We’ve been able to play with some bands that I really enjoy – Imprecation, Nocturnus, Blaspherian, Obituary, Nasty Savage, etc.
Our worst experiences are pretty standard, nothing too horrific thankfully: playing a show with food poisoning, sketchy promoters not paying, shit turnouts, shit sound, stuff getting stolen off of our merch table while we play, using the most wretched toilets imaginable.
Is it worth it? Yes. Touring can be a shitshow at times, and it’s getting more and more expensive to live, let alone tour, but that time onstage giving your music, sweat and energy is pretty cathartic.
There was the song ‘Drowned in Eldritch Slime’ in your EP Consumed by Slow Putrefaction (2020) referring to Lovecraftian Yuggoth, and now there’s a new track ‘Boiling Seas of Yuggoth’ in new album Weakest Is the Flesh. What attracts you to these themes? Which elements of this story did you want to transfer through these songs?
I’ve been drawn to the Lovecraft mythos since my teenage years, initially curious after seeing his works referenced by Metallica (and eventually) Morbid Angel. I was instantly hooked by the imagery, the descriptions too horrible to put into words, allowing the mind a lot of freedom to paint a mental image of the various creatures/settings.
Some years later, I got very heavily into the work of Brian Keene – a modern horror author. He actually created his own mythos of The Thirteen or The Labyrinth Mythos, depending on who you ask. The reason I’m mentioning this is because his mythos is my biggest lyrical inspiration, and he has plenty of nods to Lovecraft, including mentions of Yuggoth.
For those keeping notes: “Drowned in Eldritch Slime” off the EP and “Boiling Seas of Yuggoth” both have elements of Lovecraft (green pyramids, seas of hot oil, a vast pit) and also cite Yuggoth as the “realm of The Great Worm”, aka Behemoth from Brian Keene’s Labyrinth Mythos. The air is highly noxious, and exposure will result in “fungal death”, with fungus (aka “white fuzz”) covering the lungs and skin. For anyone looking to deep dive into this subject matter, I highly recommend Keene’s The Conqueror Worms and A Gathering of Crows.
Good, I’ll add Keene to my need-to-read list. What about for example Brian Lumley’s tribute to the Cthulhu Mythos? Titus Crow, you know?
I actually have not read any of Lumley’s work, I’ll be sure to remedy that. Thank you for the recommendation!
Do you have other tracks inspired by the stories of H.P.?
Yes, we have several! “The Opener of the Way” from Unworldly Summoning, “The Pursuing Horrors” from the 2015 Dread Ritual EP, “Corpses of Dead Worlds”, “Abhorrent Cruelty”, and “Sunken Altar of Dagon” from Veneration of Filth.
Might you give a hint about which stories serve as the basement for ‘The Opener of the Way’, ‘The Pursuing Horrors’, and both ‘Corpses of Dead Worlds’ and ‘Abhorrent Cruelty’?
Sure, going chronologically in our discography:
‘The Opener of the Way’ – inspired by Robert Bloch’s story of the same title, and Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothoth as referenced in The Dunwich Horror.
‘The Pursuing Horrors’ – inspired mostly by Brian Keene’s A Gathering of Crows, also some elements of Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark.
‘Corpses of Dead Worlds’ – inspired by Brian Keene’s Labyrinth Mythos tie-in to Lovecraft’s Shub-Niggurath. Shub-Niggurath is referenced as one of the names used for Nodens in Keene’s mythos – a living darkness that feeds off of misery and fear, leaving dead worlds in its wake. Referenced in Brian Keene’s Darkness at the Edge of Town (my favorite Keene novel) and Ghost Walk.
‘Abhorrent Cruelty’ – inspired by Lovecraft’s The Unnamable.
You already had two full-length albums and a few lesser releases in your discography before the new album. A proper background. What was your vision for Weakest Is the Flesh?
At the risk of sounding self-important, it felt like we had a lot to prove. We hadn’t released a full-length album since 2016, and we had just been signed to Hells Headbangers, a label that we’ve respected since the early days of the band. The goal was to release something that stands out from the constant flood of death metal releases lately – how can one even keep up when there’s new music being released almost daily?
Death metal is arguably reaching the level of popularity that it saw in the ’90s, before the bubble burst. Will a lot of this stuff coming out be remembered in 5-10 years? Maybe… but maybe not. We feel like we’ve created something memorable that, for better or worse, sounds like us. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but to just create death metal in its purest form.
Well, honestly, when one sees death metal artworks it’s easy to nail what it’s all about. And I guess artists who work with death metal bands soon will run out of ideas. But that’s a scourge of any metal genre… However, how is Church of Disgust’s visual side important for you?
It’s a fair point – death metal artwork can be pretty unvaried…. there’s only so many different ways you can kill Jesus, draw skeletons, Lovecraftian horrors and paint ominous hellscapes. But that can also be what draws people in, right? We’ve certainly indulged in those trappings, so I’m not knocking it at all.
To us, artwork has always been something important and carefully planned. All 3 of our albums have vastly different artwork. The first album having a murky, ominous piece done by Igor Mugerza, Veneration of Filth featured Putrid Matt art that I still love to this day – a swamp creature being worshiped, which served the music perfectly. Weakest is the Flesh features an incredible painting by Marc Fishman. We made an intentional choice to feature artwork by an artist who had never done any death metal albums before. He had previously done art for Game of Thrones novels, Magic the Gathering and more, so it was intimidating approaching him, but he was extremely easy to work with.
What are your favorite death metal artworks?
I’m including Hell Awaits because it’s my favorite metal art ever… also Autopsy – Severed Survival, Morbid Angel – Blessed Are the Sick, Gorefest – False, Cenotaph – The Gloomy Reflection of Our Hidden Sorrows, Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes, Slugathor – Circle of Death and Obliteration – Nekropsalms.
What inspires you to keep Church of Disgust active? What’s your primary motive behind performing that kind of death metal?
At this point, we’ve been a band for 12 years. My bandmates and I are still good friends, we are coming up with ideas organically and not having to force it. If it gets to a point where it feels forced, we’ll call it a day, but currently it’s still a rewarding creative outlet and the quality of our output is higher than our older stuff. In that regard, our motive is pretty self-serving, as there is no financial gain to be made playing this type of shit, but to hold the finished product in our hands after such a long time between albums will be highly rewarding.
Thanks for the interview Dustin, that’s all for today. Let’s sum up it… maybe you have something to tell about how you plan to spend the rest of damned 2022 with Church of Disgust?
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We just released our first music video for the track “Arrogant Death” – which is the first track on Weakest is the Flesh. The album will be out soon, we will likely plan a record release show, and we’re also slated to play the Total Death Over Mexico fest in Mexico City this summer with a lot of killer bands. We also have two other songs recorded that will likely go on a split with our friends in Cryptic Brood – one new song and a cover. Hopefully we can play some more shows, as we haven’t played live since right before COVID.