Morbid Angel frontman's take on music: "I don't really look at labels. I like good music"
Formed in Tampa -- the home of death metal -- in 1984, Morbid Angel (due Friday, November 22, at the Bluebird Theater) may not have put out the subgenre's founding document (an honor generally bestowed on Possessed's 1985 masterpiece, Seven Churches), but it can rightfully be considered one of its pioneers.
The group's own debut album, 1989's nightmarish Altars of Madness, proved very influential; Trey Azagthoth's aggressive, slashing guitar style and technical yet creative leads can be heard in the sonic DNA of countless death-metal and thrash bands that followed in its wake. Morbid Angel enjoyed some breakthrough commercial success with 1993's Covenant.
This year, Morbid Angel is touring with a show performing that pummeling storm of an album in its entirety -- a gift to old fans and a reminder to younger fans of the roots of an enduring and consistently creative style of music. We recently spoke with the cordial and gracious David Vincent, the band's long time vocalist and bassist, about how he really got into playing bass, why he appreciates performances of classic material by bands he admires and his unexpected Colorado connection with electronic musician and traveling soundman Chase Dobson.
Westword: Presumably you've been playing bass for a long time. Who were your inspirations early on?
David Vincent: Wow. Mel Schacher from Grand Funk Railroad. Dennis Dunaway from Alice Cooper's band. Geezer Butler, of course. And then Chris Squire, Steve Harris, later on. Fun stuff.
Those guys are all completely different from each other, so what is the connection you see between them?
They are. But it's living it. It's note choice. It's sort of not necessarily background type stuff. It's integral, and it's something I heard because I have a really low voice. So naturally, I gravitated toward how low you can go.
How did you get involved with what would become the death metal and heavy metal thing in Tampa?
You know, that's a much longer story than what we can [talk about today in short]. I think it was everything. The stars aligned. Obviously everybody goes through it. You meet people, you have this in common with this person but not with another, and it was a question of getting the right team together.
How did you get into playing bass?
I actually played the upright first in the school orchestra type stuff. But, truth be told, I wasn't really serious about it then. There was a girl I liked that played viola, and I thought it was a good way to get out of class and hang out with her. That's the truth. Why else would I lug this huge thing around. It was difficult to get on the school bus and everything else. It was a two quarter but still huge for a kid.
What got you interested in Sumerian mythology before you wrote Blessed Are the Sick?
Well, I'm interested in all sort of left hand path thoughts. You know, whether it's from the Lovecraftian point of view, or whether it's more from the Crowley end of things, or the LeVey end of things. There's a lot of different schools of thought, and there are things that aren't schools of thought so much as things that have been traditional and put together in an easy-to-understand box. Then there are philosophers who discuss different things and opine on different things and find ways of incorporating things that lead back to the same thing. It's personal empowerment along with some horror and dark imagery. But it adds an awful lot of entertainment to it.
What sparked your interest in the Roman Empire, and what about it fascinated you the most?
I think it was a very advanced pre-Christian society that in mind put value on things that I would find value in, and it extinguished that which had no value. Sure, there's good and bad in any culture, but it was always something that intrigued me as a kid. Anything I look at, I look at it first factually and then fantastical. When I combine the two, I create an imaginative story for myself that I can live within my mind and find creativity and inspiration from.
You're touring and playing Covenant in its entirety. On the cover of that album is a page from Arthur Waite's The Book of Ceremonial Magic, whose work is best known for as the tarot card deck most people have seen -- the Rider-Waite deck. Why did you want that as part of the cover?
The cover was putting together a setting and some imagery that spoke to the depth of thought and conviction, more than it was speaking exactly to the music that was on that recording. It's almost soft and esoteric, but it has an underlying purpose I felt was more applicable to where we were at and to think about the cerebral aspect of it because the music speaks for itself. It's where we're coming from, rather than some zombie ripping someone's guts out. Unnecessary.
Related to that cover is an image of "The Pact of Urbain Grandier," who was the priest that was burned at the stake for being "in league with the devil" and the subject of the Aldous Huxley play that was made into Ken Russell's most notorious movie, still not available completely uncut, The Devils. What is it about him and his life that you found fascinating? Does it perhaps more tie into what you were talking about just now?
Again, that cover was deliberate. Everything that's in there was to express the studious nature of what we're about as opposed to just speaking to the music. The ceremonial dagger, the candle, a pact. The notion of a pact, the notion of commitment--a covenant, if you will. That's what we wanted to put front and center. Again, it's a little bit esoteric, but those who get it, it makes perfect sense.
Until very recently, Covenant was the best-selling death metal album of all time. So a lot of people heard it. How did you feel about seeing Beavis and Butt-head's treatment of "God of Emptiness"?
Quite honestly, we felt confident with that song. Someone told me one day, "That's not cool that Beavis and Butt-head are laughing at your stuff." I said, "You know, I thought about it, and every time they laughed, it meant it was broadcast, and I got a check. So laugh more. Please laugh more. Laugh as much as you want."
Obviously Mike Judge or the writers of that show cared enough about your music to include it, even if they had a laugh at it at all.
I didn't find it offensive at all. It was funny but that's the nature of that program. They find ways to make fun of certain things and to make fun with certain things. That video did very well for the band, and it got us a new fan base that weren't necessarily predominantly heavy metal bands. We noticed after we put that video out that we had a whole contingency of Gothic females coming to the shows. Why would I complain about that?
Performing these Covenant songs, is there anything you have come to appreciate that you didn't before or have learned to appreciate in a different way?
It's been a long time since we've played some of these songs. Some of them, honestly, this is this the first tour we've played them. So doing it in this order, it's kind of cool because this was a pivotal record for Morbid Angel, and people are coming to the show and they know what to expect, as opposed to, "Well, are they going to do this or that?"
This idea of a themed tour, which we've never done before, apart from our tour for Altars of Madness because that's the material we had at the time, obviously with each subsequent record, you add a couple of new songs and retire a couple of old songs. By the time you have nine or ten albums out, it becomes more and more difficult to select a set list that's representative of the legacy of the band. Some songs you are compelled to play.
A lot of people do this kind of thing, but we haven't done it in the past. I think it's a really good idea because, for example, I saw Jon Oliva do the Hall of the Mountain King record, which is excellent, and I was so happy I saw it. It was a great delivery, and I'm a big Savatage fan -- another Florida band. These kinds of things are cool. It's not like going back in time, but it's a nod and a bow to greatness. So we're giving that same thing to our fans.
You became involved in the Goth and industrial thing a while back, and you were in the Genitorturers. What got you interested in doing that sort of music?
I don't really look at labels. I like good music, and I think there's good stuff within any genre. Just because something is death metal doesn't mean I'm going to like it, and just because something is not death metal doesn't mean I'm not going to like it. I consider myself a metal person, those are my roots, but there are a number of other things that I enjoy. It's mood dependent. I would imagine most people are that way.
A guy who is more or less based out of Colorado now when he's not on tour with Rihanna or whomever is hiring him to do sound, Chase Dobson, said you worked with him at NAMM in L.A. a long time ago, and you introduced him to cEvin Key. How did you come to know cEvin?
I know Chase. [But regarding cEvin Key] over the years, I'm a fan of Skinny Puppy. The guy's an incredible artist. We've had similar people that we've worked with. The music business is a small world and you meet all kinds of people. There are some I'd like to meet that I haven't, but I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of these people.
I think cEvin's brilliant. He's done a lot of interesting stuff, a lot of off the wall stuff. He's a very bright individual. I like him as a person, and I like most of what he does. He gets a little carried away sometimes, as we all do, but by and large, I like his spirit, and I like what he's about, musically.