Interviews

26 Years In, Dying Fetus Is Still Not Fucking Around

The death metal veterans return with 'The Wrong One to Fuck With,' a hard-hitting new LP that shows not much has changed since 1991.

by Eric Gallippo
06 July 2017, 8:39am

This article originally appeared on Noisey US.

Dying Fetus don't fuck with change much when it comes to their proven sound. The long-running, Maryland-based band has been sharpening its mix of technical death metal, hardcore, and grind since the early 90s, with landmark albums, like 2000 breakthrough Destroy the Opposition and 2012's widely praised Reign Supreme, standing as proof of their adherence to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" maxim.

Last month, the band released its eighth full-length and Reign follow-up, Wrong One to Fuck With on Relapse Records, which they'll support as co-headliners with The Black Dahlia Murder on the Summer Slaughter Tour starting next month. As expected, the album doesn't stray too far when it comes to songwriting, but it's also far from phoned in, and should be a welcome entry for longtime fans and newcomers to the band. 26 years in, the trio can still cram an album's worth of memorable riffs into standout songs, like "Fixated on Devastation," "Die with Integrity," and the title track.

Guitarist, vocalist, and co-founder John Gallagher admits to feeling some pressure getting back to writing after the success of Reign, which charted as high as No. 3 on Billboard's "Top Heatseekers" albums in the United States and No. 14 for "Top Hard Rock Albums."

"It's like you're standing at the bottom of a mountain looking up, and you're like, 'Oh, fuck! I gotta climb this thing?'" he says. "I always go through the same feeling of doubt. Somehow it always seems to work out, but it's a slow, tedious process."

Founded by Gallagher and original bassist and vocalist Jason Netherton (who split to start Misery Index in 2001) when the two were teenagers, Dying Fetus' current lineup has been in place for nearly a decade, with bassist and vocalist Sean Beasley joining in 2007 and drummer Trey Williams in 2009. Their latest may not be a departure, but the band still did some adapting when it came to writing and recording, packaging, and promoting their first album in five years.

After working with Darin Morris (Misery Index) on preproduction for the last two albums, DF went D.I.Y. this time around with their own recording setup in-house. With Williams as de facto engineer and drum programmer – a first for him – the band laid down basic tracks and beats in their Baltimore rehearsal space before transferring the results up the street to Wright Way Studios for proper tracking with producer Steve Wright. The overall result was a more collaborative effort, Gallagher says. "I have to give a lot of props to Trey, because it was kind of thrown in his lap," he says. "Trey did all the editing. He learned how to record my riffs and edit that. So that took a little more time."

Changing tastes for graphic images in metal – particularly violence against women – also caused a hold up. After trying a first-person, video game-inspired concept with different attackers assailing the viewer, the band settled on the gory murder scene pictured on Wrong One's cover – but not before going rounds with Relapse on it.

"I was like, 'Let's make this a massacre scene," Gallagher says. "I was pushing for torsos strewn about and bodies hanging. I wanted to have a torso of a woman with her tits hanging out, her organs hanging. And that's where the label was like, 'Whoa. It stops right here. This is just too much.'"

Relapse challenged his concept as misogynistic, and told Gallagher it wouldn't survive on social media.

"I was censored. I always thought through this death metal shit, I can do whatever I want. That's why I was kind of frustrated," he says. "A lot of the underground death metal [bands] I listen to do this stuff. That's kind of cliche, you know?" (It's true – Norway's Kraanium basically put this exact scene on their last LP.)

When it came time for video concepts to promote the album, the band wanted some variety from the performance-based schtick of their previous efforts."They start becoming the same old thing, where they have us playing in a room, and they have some actor usually being tortured or something, and it's a flashback," Gallagher says. "I just started seeing this redundancy."

For single "Panic Amongst the Herd," the band enlisted director Mount Emult to produce the darkly comic, cutup visuals that look more like something Animal Collective might use to mess with drugged out fans than a Dying Fetus clip. So far reviews have been mixed.

"Some of my death metal friends were like, 'What the fuck is that video? It sucks! What's up with that fucking possum jumping around?'" Gallagher says. "But then people also see me at shows and are like, 'I love that new video, it's different. I didn't expect it.'"

In the Mitch Massie-directed video for "Die With Integrity," Gallagher got closer to his massacre. The theatrical video follows the very bloody story of 'The Wrong One to Fuck With,' who graphically kills the hell out of most everyone hanging around a disturbing whorehouse where his wife was raped and murdered, from slack-jawed patrons to the sadistic madam behind it all.

Lyrically, Dying Fetus is known for reality-based observations on the ugly side of life, including societal and political problems. But the band has avoided taking sides or outward personal stances on issues, especially since Netherton left the band, and it doesn't seem the last election cycle or current political climate has changed that. Beasley writes most of the lyrics, sometimes based on titles or themes from Gallagher.

"People are more entrenched now than ever, rooting for their side like their favorite sports team," he says. "Remember, all these people are professional politicians. Both parties have just elected a celebrity-in-chief."

"We can talk all day about guitars, but politics aren't my thing," Gallagher adds. "When Jason Netherton was in the band over 15 years ago, he was kind of doing that approach. It's less of that now. It's more of a brutality-kind-of-centred band, but with touches of everything."

Over its 10 tracks, Wrong One To Fuck With takes an impressionist pass at prescription drug addiction, mass hysteria, doomsday profiteering, and violent revenge fantasies. For "Ideological Subjugation" and "Unmitigated Detestation," Beasley was inspired by what he sees as a modern political "witch hunt" to brand people with labels, like "evil or racist" rather than engage in discourse.

"Once someone or a group of people are tagged, then any despicable behaviour or acts of violence against them are justified," he says. "In the past, it seemed to be more subtle. The total justification is something new and interesting to talk about."

With its blood-splattered cover branded with original band logo and dry, punchy production, it's easy to think of Wrong One as a kind-of a throwback, or at least nod to, the band's earlier days and debt owed to the first wave of death metal, which was peaking around the time they began.

"When we started back in '91, we weren't touring or anything. We were just a small band no one heard of," Gallagher says. "It took us a couple of years just to get known a little bit through the underground death metal scene and fanzines and tape trading."

Like most bands trying to find an audience in death metal at that time, they made and circulated their own demos, fliers, and promotional packets. "I remember going to the Cannibal Corpse/Cynic tour," Gallagher says. "Chris Barnes was still singing for Cannibal. We drove up a couple of states from Maryland to Jersey and passed around the cassettes at the show. We did whatever we could to get exposure."

By the mid-90s more people were noticing, and in 1996 the band did its first tour with Kataklysm and Monstrosity in support of its self-released debut, Purification through Violence. But it still took some work before they finally got a deal with Relapse four years later.

"We sent the first demo to Relapse Records, and they thanked us for submitting it, like, 'Thanks but no thanks,'" Gallagher says. "Years later, we put in more work, and then they signed us. It was like, 'Oh now you want us.' But that's how it goes. We had to build ourselves up a little on our own."

The band still has a blue-collar attitude and work ethic – Gallagher took a break from installing high-end, custom carpet in a nice house in Washington, D.C., (and playing fetch with the homeowners' dog) to talk with me – but they're also seeing the benefits, especially when it comes to their dedicated fanbase. After Reign's release, Dying Fetus spent nearly three years on the road, covering North America, Europe, and Asia. They've seen their faces on billboards in Indonesia ("We're kind of worshipped there," Gallagher says. "It's wild."); been voted by fans to play Download Festival's mainstage alongside Linkin Park and Aerosmith; and also gifted action figures, coffee mugs, and Bic lighters bearing their likeness from dedicated fans. One fan even made them a clear bar of soap with a human embryo figurine inside.

At one especially memorable Chicago show, Gallagher was asked to help memorialise a fan who had passed away.

"His buddy brought his ashes to the show," he says. "He was taking them to a lot of his friends' favourite band's shows and spreading his ashes in the moshpit, so I did that as well. I felt kind of like a priest or something. Like, I don't even know. Throwing out the ashes of a guy? I didn't take it lightly, you know? I was very flattered."

Photo by Scott Kinkade

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