Monday, October 26, 2009

Midwest Metal Issue #20 Flashback IV

For the cover story to Issue #20 I wanted to do something a little different. I emailed former Usurper Guitarist/Songwriter Rick Scythe to comment on this interview done a decade ago. I thought some current perspective on a classic piece would be cool. His comments are in RED below and throughout.

Midwest Metal: The last time we spoke, the band was hinting towards a New York City show with England's Cradle Of Filth. Let's start there.

Rick Scythe: It went pretty good, we got a call from the promoters in NY, whom we worked with previously on the Dark Funeral tour so they knew us and I guess Stuart from C.O.F. requested us to support them. So we made our way out to NY and played the one show with them and it went really well.

From what I've read about the show it seemed pretty big.

Yeah it was the biggest U.S. show we've done so far, the place was packed and people were getting into it, I mean there was no doubt that they were there to see
C.O.F., but we got a good response.

You also had a prime spot too.

We went on right before
C.O.F., Acheron opened the whole thing up and then we played, it was cool that there was two pretty known name bands opening. Here, you'd have a ton of no name bands that had to sell tickets then the headliners would play.

Since then, Usurper finally made it to Europe. How was finally getting to go and with going, were a few goals accomplished?

Definitely a goal was accomplished! First of all, just getting out there was pretty impressive, seeing that we've had the plane tickets in our hands two other times, and at the last minute were canceled. The line up was
Enthroned, Hecate Enthroned, us and it was going to be Dawn, but they had to cancel so it was us three and occasionally there was an opening band, a local band.

It was really cool, the experience of touring Europe was really different, way different than touring here, over there they treat bands on an underground level, like ourselves, much better than out here. I mean everything was provided, from a bus there and a small van here, the clubs would provide two catered meals a day, full sound check every night it was just a way more professional experience.

What were some of the best cities you played?

A few shows really stick out, the very first show was really rough, none of us really slept on the plane we were just partying too much.

On the plane?
Yeah, we were drinking and everything and it was free!

Rick Scythe 2009: This first European tour was a blast! 1998 sometimes feels like a year ago, other times it feels like a lifetime ago. We actually not only drank as much as we wanted for free on flights back then, we actually got to peek into the cockpit because the flight attendants thought we were a famous band. I also had my 'Leatherman' brand pocket knife right in my pocket, no problem. We also had our bullet belts in our luggage on this flight. They are obviously empty, just for the stage look - but never the less, after 9/11 this would have got us arrested.

We've toured many other countries since then and every time someone was getting wasted on the plane (not myself - I hate drinking on flights, I don't like to get up to piss all the time). After 2001, Alcohol was no longer free but that didn't stop these guys from drinking. I remember flying to Mexico and one of us was so drunk and messed up on pills the federal marshals were threatening to arrest.

We had to wheel him off the plane in a wheelchair. The promoter who picked us up from the airport thought this was a gag, like, "real funny guys" - then it became all too clear that this was no joke.

Also when we headlined Inferno Fest in 2006, I guess everyone was pretty wild on the flight. We got detained for a while because my guitar roadie was a complete pot addict and reeked like weed. When we got to our dressing room, the Enslaved guys came over, I think it was Grutle, and said that one of their girlfriend's worked for airport security and she said, "You won't believe it, there were these crazy American guys who were all wasted and out of control at the airport, you should have seen these guys..."

At that point he said without blinking, "Ahhh... Usurper must have arrived".

Ha! OK back to the first night.

We got there and we just out of it, we got picked up and taken to the first show right from the plane to the show. That was in the Netherlands, but by the time we got to Belgium it was incredible, the club was packed, I'd say about three hundred people, the sound was great and the people were total Metal freaks.

When we got to Austria, that sticks out too because it was sorta the opposite, there was maybe one hundred in a small club but the crowd was really intense, people even knew stuff from the new album! Someone must have gotten a promo, but they were yelling out the titles of new songs even though it may have been a bit of a culture shock, I ain't complaining one bit.

This was the first tour with Dave Hellstorm, how'd he do?

He did great. It was a relief, his playing just keeps getting better and better and that was another thing, he is the new member and we really weren't sure of, I mean we've known him for years, but on tour you learn everyone's habits.

But you learn a lot about a person on tour and I gotta say that he's just one of the coolest guys, totally laid back and the funny thing was out of all of us, he can probably handle the touring better than us! If we happened to feel miserable because we're cramped in the bunk, or it's starting to smell in there, no matter what he just loved it.

What kind of set list would you do?
It changed every night, we did every song from '
Threshold…' except "Dead Of Winter", and we played two songs from 'Diabolosis...' and then one or two new ones. It was just cool when the people knew some of the new songs especially in Austria and that was the show with only one hundred people.

RS 2009: Touring with Dave Hellstorm was always a breeze. He was a great guy, he loved the road. We all did back then. It was all new, all fun, all in front of us. The older we got and the more we did it, the surlier we got. Looking back I suppose I wasn't always the most fun to be around. I don't like people getting wasted and playing, I don't like people always around me and I'm not great at bullshitting - even though I started to not really dig people around me all the time, I always loved playing the shows and traveling to new places.

'Usurper II: Skeletal Season' is finally out. The last time we spoke, you mentioned that you've had these songs in your head for a very long time. You've lived with your copy for a few months, and now the whole World can here them too, how do you feel about them?

Really interesting that you ask that, the last time we spoke we'd just gotten out of the studio recording it and at that time it was the last thing I wanted to listen to, I mean we just spent so much time being very critical of everything, every detail etc. But now, I've started listening to it and wanted to hear it from an outside point of view and I am really happy with it.

The way it came out, the songs, the lyrics, the artwork, everything just seems to be coming together, the whole band is really, really proud of it, we feel it's a major accomplishment for us as a band. We stuck to our same formula, but then again we weren't afraid to go out on a limb and try a few things, I hate when a band comes out with something predictable and the same, but then again I hate it when a band changes too much.
Black Sabbath in the old days did it right, I mean 'Master Of Reality' sounds way different than 'Sabotage' but they're both great albums!

Let's dissect the album and go song by song, start with the opener "Shadowfiend".

We felt that this was a great way to open the album, we always like to start things off extreme, ever since the demo came out it just something that we like to do. The song starts out with a long drawn out, chaotic beginning then once it kicks in it's just a, for me anyway, nonstop head banging, fist banging song. Live, it just works on so many levels. The lyrics are based on a classic French werewolf that went on a rampage.

"Dismal Wings Of Terror"

This is a great live song, it's fast and relentless, we did this a few times in Europe and we had the whole crowd fist banging in unison and doing Death grunts! Lyrically it's one of my favorites, back in 1966 here in the states, a man type creature with huge bat-like wings and no head was terrorizing a small town. People who had witnessed it started having weird premonitions and it climaxes with a bridge that span over the Ohio River collapsed and a lot of witnesses were killed, people still don't know what it was, it was just a violent creature. So when I wrote the lyrics I wanted them to be like a prophecy.

Next up is the title track, "Skeletal Season".

This track really sums up everything, it's basic, and it’s just a head banging song that we like to play live. What sticks out for me is the solo, I used both a twelve and six string acoustic to create an eerie feeling, the lyrics are like Halloween, or really just the time when everything dies, like when you go outside and you can just smell it, it's cold out and you become one with everyone you're with. Drinking and listening to Metal.

Rs 2009: This was the first album I began not only writing all the music for, but also all the lyrics. I was, and still am into crypto zoology, monster folklore, etc. So this album really had this concept - a first of its kind to do so. Halloween, American monster tales - no one really wrote about this stuff and to me it was exciting and made a great backdrop to heavy music.

"Embrace Of The Dead"

This is the song we're going to do a video for, it'll be on the
Necropolis video compilation...

Speaking of which, whatever happened to the "Slavehammer" video?

That will be on there too, the "Slavehammer" video is more like live footage, fire and all sorts of pyro the "Embrace Of The Dead" we're gonna try to use a bigger budget, but still make it look cool with some Horror movie quality. We've got some good ideas for, what I think is one of the heaviest songs on the album.

"Prowling Death (The Demigoddess)"

This is just a back to basics Thrash Metal, or Death Metal, whatever you want to call it, stripped down song. While some songs have an atmospheric type quality, "Prowling Death" is raw, like some of our old favorite bands used to do back in the mid eighties, lyric wise, it's about the Demigoddess that would come in and seduce men's souls, stuff like that.

RS 2009: Our videos were always a nightmare. Never came out how I wanted. Always plagued with technical problems. I've always been a huge fan of videos. I love the old Voivod videos, I like cool concepts, bad effects and stuff other than just the band playing.

I remember "Embrace of the Dead", the main scene was us performing in a cemetery and then there was a scene where I was going to break out of the ground like a zombie. I wore one of my Dad's old suits and had actual corpse make-up and real pig intestines. It was going to be totally kick ass. I was going to break one of my hands out of the ground like a classic Fulci flick and then rise out and rip intestines out of this dummy... unfortunately the cops came and busted the shoot. Then the video company ran off with the footage.

'Slavehammer' video never was even edited for some reason? I have all the raw video tapes so I want to put it together and release it on the Usurper DVD if it ever comes out.

"Threshold of the Usurper"/"Skeletal Season" Import Re-Issue

This is our epic song for the album, this is a song that we won't do live, unless we feel really inspired. It's more like a Metal Orchestra but this is something we'd like to have on all our releases, something that goes beyond what we can do live.

It's something we like to do in the studio to create an epic feel, we're really happy with the way this song came out, we were just like, fuck it, let's do it. It still retains the old feel, especially in the middle and the soloing in it is cool too, it's
Jon (Necromancer) and myself switching off on the solo, mine is first then his.

The lyrics are about a cemetery right here in Illinois that is haunted. I had read a few books on it and we went there one night, we feel we captured the feel of it with some of the weird tunings and stuff. Very dynamic.

Did that song take awhile to perfect?

Not really perfect but while I was showing it to the guys, I got a lot of strange looks, I mean, I told them that the song was going to sound a lot different, similar to what we went through learning "Dead Of Winter" off '
Threshold Of The Usurper', it's just out of the ordinary.

Another burner of a track is "Brimstone Fist".

This song is another stripped down song and it's also the exact opposite of "Cemetarian" with this song we wanted to recreate what it's like to listen to old Bathory or basically any old, real Black Metal, not like the Black Metal that we have today, back when it meant something, just a brutal song that doesn't stop the whole way through.

It seems that for every Doomy type song there's a balls out, non stop attack song.

Yeah, that's just what we want to listen to, I mean some bands can stay at the same pace for a whole album, we just like a lot of different elements. It goes back to when we formed
Usurper when we put out our first demo, we just wanted to capture a lot of classic elements of Metal so when it came to put out an album, it just seemed that was the logical choice. There's just been so many great Metal bands, in all styles of Metal that we still like to hear.


This song is about a German Werewolf story that you can read about in a lot of books, it's been well publicized. It is a less is more type feel that we used to create more of an atmosphere, we've done this song live a few times and have always had the crown head banging in unison to it. It's a dark song and ends the album on a disturbing note, we actually recorded another version of this song that's even more way out there, just super heavy and dark, we may release this sometime down the road.

If so it'll be a CD with the re-release of the '
Visions From The Gods' demo, "Soulstalker '96" which is cool because it was the last song that Apocalyptic Warlord recorded with us and just a bunch of strange stuff that may come out late '99, but it will definitely be out before the new album.

How would you describe the 'Skeletal Season' packaging?

The layout is really cool, the booklet is sixteen pages, full lyrics, side notes about the songs, in full color. It's just the kind of packaging we felt it deserved, we're just really happy that
Necropolis, man just everything, they've been treating us really good, making sure we get tours, we're supposed to do a few California shows in April then back to Europe in the summer.
We've gotten some other [album] offers and we really hope to continue working with Necropolis I mean they're really starting to build up in the underground and Paul has been very cool with us since day one. s'

He always promised us that when our second full length came out that, they were going to do it right and they've stuck by their word so far. They've been very honest with us and it's cool to be able to call the president of the label at his house and just talk about old Metal, strategies, whatever, in the past it's always been the business end where everything goes sour.

Usurper w/ King Diamond and 'Necronemesis' producer Kol Marshall, 2000

Rs 2009: Ten years later and this album still brings back great memories. I have the original cover painting by Juha Vuorma hanging in my home office. Now that it's Halloween time I light a jack-o-lantern, drink a few beers, have a cigar and listen to this album under a gloomy sky. The label didn't really like this album and the songs didn't work as well live as the traditional head banging metal anthems of later albums

Because we made and effort to stick to more straightforward metal songs on all our following albums, I kind of missed this Halloween vibe of '
Skeletal Season' era Usurper. In 2007 I put out a new project, Nightshade (Official) as kind of a continuation of the 'Skeletal Season' era Usurper, except less Metal and more experimental. This only lasted 2 years and one album. I'm hoping one day to continue this again, but for now it's on indefinite hiatus.

Now in 2009 I'm pleased to announce my newest solo project,
SCYTHE. This is essentially what I would be doing in Usurper if Usurper was still going on today, plus some different elements as well.

We have about 5 original songs right now, some are
Usurper songs that would have been on our next album, some are re-worked unreleased Usurper material, others songs I went with an approach I've never tried before - which is get in a jam room with my other guitarist Joe and drummer Ben and literally combine riffs. I know many bands do it this way, but I never did.

We also do some
Usurper songs like "Lycanthropic", "1666 AD", "Kill For Metal", "Metal Lust", "Slavehammer" we might even do 1 or 2 of the more metal Nightshade songs live, not sure yet.

This band started as a solo project during the time when Mr. Faust quit
Nightshade and we had nowhere to jam, but now it is an actual band. It features myself, Rick Scythe (guitar/vocals/bass), Joe Martinez (guitars) and Ben Mulvey (drums). Joe Martinez was in a band with Jon Necromancer and Dan Tyrantor of Usurper called Agnosia in the early 90's.

Ben and Joe were also in a death metal band that played out in the Chicago area in the 90's called Decation - so we're all vets, all knew each other for 20 years, these guys followed
Usurper and are into the same music so we're ready to roll!

**Bassist Jon Necromancer is currently in Nachtmystium and can be heard on their most current release, 'Doomsday Derelicts'