At what point do we just accept that the New Wave of Old School Death Metal has evolved past a genre revival gimmick and into the dominant sound in death metal? It’s been about a decade now since the legions of death metal turned away, in part, from the hyper-technical smorgasbord of brutality that became prominent in the late 2000s in favour of a return to the roots of the genre. Gone was the over-polished, sterile production, back came the raw, rough-around-the-edges tones of the 80s and 90s. Away went technicality for technicality’s sake, making way for a newfound focus on the art of songcraft. And death metal hasn’t really looked back since. Sure, it’s still a genre with seemingly endless sounds branching off its core, but the most prominent sound in death metal remains, as it has done for the last decade, the New Wave of Old School Death Metal. Enter UNDEATH, Rochester natives and the latest outfit set to take a spot with the big dogs at the top of the old-school revival.
Formed in 2018, UNDEATH wasted very little time. Two demos – one of which eventually doubled as a split release with Italian cosmic bruisers DEVOID OF THOUGHT – in 2019, followed up the following year with a live album caught the attention of the prolific Prosthetic Records. This new relationship proved mutually beneficial to the extreme, UNDEATH’s debut LP Lesions Of A Different Kind becoming one of the most pre-ordered records in Prosthetic’s history while simultaneously launching UNDEATH headfirst into conversations of the strength of the old-school death metal revival, their name mentioned alongside heavyweights like GATECREEPER, BLOOD INCANTATION and TOMB MOLD.
“Man, it’s fucking crazy. I mean, we had expectations for Lesions Of A Different Kind, we were proud of it and we wanted to get it out there but I don’t think any of us were even close to anticipating the kind of response it got,” reflects vocalist Alex Jones. “For me personally, I was just like ‘Man, I hope my friends like this,’ or ‘I hope the people who liked our demos don’t think this is terrible.’ The response we got was something that I couldn’t even imagine. I’m just floored by how well it’s done, and I’m so honoured that people gave a shit.”
Fast forward two years and a global pandemic, now UNDEATH are set to follow up their initial burst of success with It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave. And it’s painfully obvious there’s no second album syndrome here. UNDEATH knew they had a winning formula, but there was no desire to rehash old ideas – just as there was no entertainment of the idea of going wildly off-piste.
“As a band, we just didn’t want to get cute with it. We made this very – I don’t want to say straightforward – but this very classic sounding death metal record and it’s something we’re all proud of. So for the second one, we didn’t want to just add synthesisers or change the entire lyrical approach. We just wanted to double down on all of the elements of Lesions Of A Different Kind that we really enjoyed and just make everything bigger and catchier and just more fun.” Jones comments on moving from Lesions Of A Different Kind to It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave and the impact the growth of the UNDEATH family had on the record.
“Tommy [Wall, bass] and Jared [Welch, guitars] joined the band right around the time that Lesions… came out, and that opened up a lot of doors for us in terms of song writing possibilities. They’re tremendous players. They’re super just likeable, low key guys, and they added a really much needed boost and invigoration to UNDEATH in terms of where we could go with these songs. But at the end of the day we just didn’t want to experiment too much, we didn’t want to overthink anything. We just wanted to make the best death record that we were capable of making.”
Speaking of song writing possibilities, Jones is keen to ponder how exciting the future will be with Welch and Wall joining forces with founding guitarist Kyle Beam in a song writing partnership. “Kyle is definitely still the guy at the helm for a lot of the song writing, but for the third album – whenever that comes out – we’ve been talking about having a little more of a collaborative process. It’s something Kyle has really expressed an interest in especially now we have Tommy and Jared in the band. I just think it would be awesome to have more songs that aren’t just all Kyle – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just to give new directions for what an UNDEATH song could potentially sound like.”
So, when can we expect to get a real show of this juggernaut song writing team? Sure, Bone Wrought, the penultimate track from It’s Time… To Rise From the Grave is the first true taste of writing collaboration, but Jones hints that something more substantial isn’t too far over the horizon. “The writing doesn’t stop. By the time we finished recording Lesions Of A Different Kind, we were already two or three songs deep into It’s Time… To Rise From the Grave, and now we’re already formulating riffs and ideas for the next record. It’s not like we’re trying to get ahead of ourselves, or that we’re on a time crunch, we just love writing riffs. We love being in a band together, it’s so fulfilling and we’re privileged to get to do it, so we want to make the most of it.”
It’s that last point that really gives you an insight into the band. UNDEATH are quickly becoming a behemoth in the modern death metal scene, and part of that comes from a desire to enjoy what they do. That isn’t to say the band isn’t taken serious, but having fun seems to be at the core of what UNDEATH do.
“Some of my all time favourite bands take themselves very seriously and deal with some very highbrow, very severe subject matter and I really love that and appreciate that. But I just know that if UNDEATH ever tried to put a straight face to the shit that we sing about, we’d be deceiving ourselves and the people who listen to our music,” Jones comments on the fun-loving image UNDEATH have. “I think about what we do on a daily basis, and we’re just playing video games, smoking weed, drinking beer. We’re not going out into the woods and conducting Satantic rituals. We’re just normal guys who play death metal, and that’s all we aspire to be.”
With death metal – in all of its forms – now more popular than ever, and the old-school revival leading the charge for the genre, it must be pretty mind blowing for Jones and co. to both be involved in a movement at the forefront of extreme music and to see the genre they love enjoy a period of unbelievable success.
“It’s amazing. The kind of death metal I’ve always gravitated towards tends to be more rudimentary, meat and potatoes death metal. The stuff that’s resonated with me the most tends to be simpler, it’s more pared down. It’s about grooves and riffs and less about raw technicality and speed. The fact that that style is in vogue again and it’s having such a big resurgence is just delightful for me as a fan of death metal,” Jones muses. “I’m glad that we started UNDEATH coincidently right around the same time so many other bands started up doing the same thing we were. It’s been awesome to grow alongside these bands and see our peers achieve success for themselves. It’s just been really tremendous to witness.”
And it will continue to be tremendous to witness. The New Wave of Old School Death Metal is showing absolutely no signs of slowing, no signs of letting up in either quality or intensity. And UNDEATH continue to be at its core. Lesions Of A Different Kind was one of the most successful albums of Prosthetic Records catalogue. It’s Time… To Rise From the Grave looks set to double down on that achievement, with aplomb. Their next record, whenever it may come? Well, that might just make UNDEATH the kings of modern brutality. It’s time to rise from the grave? Nah, the dead are already risen.
It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave is out now via Prosthetic Records.
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