“Save an animal, become a cannibal.”
Much to the chagrin of the middle class professionals waiting for their morning caffeine fix, Dave Grant’s tongue-in-cheek response to my offhand question—"Is human flesh compatible with a vegan diet?"—sets off a bout of raucous laughter from bassist/co-vocalist Alvino Salcedo and drummer Preston Weippert, his bandmates in death metal outfit Of Feather and Bone. The juxtaposition of black jeans and leather jackets with the family-friendly, suburban atmosphere of the coffee shop where we’re seated serves as a perfect analogy for the Denver trio: just because they approach their art very seriously doesn’t mean they can’t crack a smile every now and then.
While discussions of underground death metal rarely explore individual feelings outside of anger or hatred, guitarist and co-vocalist Grant offers a measured reflection on what extreme metal means to him and his collaborators. “I feel that we make the music that we want to hear, that means something to us, and with the new record we’ve finally made the album that sounds like us. This band, and really this album, is super cathartic for all of us, particularly with my brother passing away recently.”
Weippert adds, “You could say that the music we’re making now is ‘just death metal,’ but really it’s what we love, what we listen to, and it [has] pushed our limits in every way. [It’s] brought out the best in each of us.”
That thoughtfulness further informs our discussion of genre boundaries and subcultural politics, two recurring themes in the band's existence. The band’s newest album, Bestial Hymns of Perversion, is out March 23 via Profound Lore, and marks a departure from the caustic grind that characterized their previous releases, particularly their 2015 album Embrace the Wretched Flesh. The band stripped away its frantic, d-beat-driven bursts of aggression in favor of a cavernous death assault that harkens back to Incantation, Autopsy, and early Cannibal Corpse. While cynics might question the seemingly radical stylistic shift, the band explains that finding their authentic sound was an organic process that was necessary for the group’s continued existence.
“We’d been sitting on Embrace for [nearly] a year before it came out, and we were just like ‘Yo, we’re over these songs already.’ We didn’t feel connected to them anymore,” says Grant.
“We were already tapping into [our collective] death metal influences by the time that album came out,” adds Salcedo. “We couldn’t keep writing those kinds of songs. They didn’t feel like us or sound like us. Would we be happy writing another record like [that]e? Obviously we wouldn’t. Would we be here now if we hadn’t trusted ourselves to move away from that style? Definitely not. We wouldn’t have gotten to this point if we hadn’t made these changes, if we hadn’t [collectively] made the decisions that were hard to make, if we hadn’t done what we needed to do to be happy, to be real.”
“We were just trying to find ‘our sound,’ you know?" Grant says, explaining why the trio felt disconnected from their earlier material. "And it sucks when you have a full-length come out that you know you put a lot of heart and soul into, but you’re not fully happy with [the final product], you know? It felt like another band wrote and recorded [ Embrace]; when we released the [ Promotional Demo 2016] tape, I didn’t feel like that.”
Keenly aware of how listeners might misinterpret the evolution of their sound, the band tapped Cephalic Carnage guitarist Steve Goldberg to record two new songs (“Pious Abnormality” and “Resounding from the Depths”) which they self-released as a limited edition cassette in November 2016 featuring. Rife with chainsaw riffs, guttural invocations, and inexhaustible streams of blastbeats, the tracks marked the arrival of the newly revitalized Of Feather and Bone.
“We had those two songs, and whether we were going to release another record on Good Fight (who released Embrace the Wretched Flesh) or not, we were going to sound like us now, not us then,” explains Grant. “I didn’t want people to see a huge jump from one full length to [the next]. We wanted to offer a sort of bridge, you know? I feel like a drastic shift can hurt a band in that way. So, the tape was our way of saying ‘Yo, this is who we are now.’ We took a chance in putting it out there and it worked out better for us than we ever could’ve imagined.”
Salcedo agrees, “It was a completely self-released tape, yet people still are downloading it and still talking about us. People still bring it up and it’s been this long already, and now we have the new record coming out. That thing stood the test of time more than we ever thought it could, dude."
The cassette garnered substantial buzz in the underground and grabbed the attention of Profound Lore label head Chris Bruni, whose diverse roster had already earned him a place atop the band’s list of potential homes for the new record. When Bruni described his excitement for Bestial Hymns of Perversion by drawing connections to previous Profound Lore releases as well as the underground outfits whom the band sees as their contemporaries (e.g., Gatecreeper, Tomb Mold, Genocide Pact), they knew that working with him was the right choice.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship," Salcedo says. "You and the label have to work together and be on the same page. If we’re going to go on the road and sell these records, if we’re gonna hold up our end of the bargain, we need to know that the label’s doing their share as well and that they’re invested. We needed to know that someone who is a fan is handling this, that what they’re putting out is carefully curated. Through dialogue with Bruni, it felt very natural and it felt like he had really listened to the album, that he really cared about it. After that, we knew we were all on the same page and that Profound Lore was the place for us.”
There are two facts about Alvino Salcedo that you discover immediately upon meeting him. The first is that he is the quintessential gentle giant—albeit one often clad in full-on death metal regalia. Standing well over six feet tall and visibly muscled from countless hours spent boxing, he greets friends with big hugs and laughs warmly at others’ jokes. As a photographer, his preferred subject matter is the natural world; pictures of snowy, Rocky Mountain trails and desolate, forgotten mining towns fill his portfolio.
The second, and even more readily apparent, fact is that he is a man of color in a music world largely dominated by white men. He is a first generation American whose Aztec and Huichol lineage is a vital part of his identity and which subtly informs his art. While he emphasizes that his race isn’t at the forefront of the band aesthetic or interactions (“When the three of us have lunch, I have never said, ‘Well guys, how is it being white this week?’), he explained that he gradually became more comfortable tapping into that cultural imagery when writing lyrics for the new record.
“All of the references are vague but all refer back to mythology centered around Mictlan, the Aztec underworld," he explains. "The culture, beliefs, sustained civilization, and natural resources were all traded away for the archaic and inherently racist religion of the European invaders. By bringing this imagery to light, I’m trying to pay homage to my ancestors and help keep their culture alive.”
“The imagery there is broad enough that someone who may not be of my ancestry can relate and go ‘Wow, I see where this is coming from,'" he continues. "Whether whoever is reading the lyrics and listening to the music can connect them, well, that’s on them. The intent, deep down inside, is there. If you don’t get that, if it’s just dark and heavy for you, it’s cool too.”
Given both Salcedo’s ethnic heritage and the ongoing discourse surrounding bigotry in the underground, our conversation eventually turns toward the rough patches in Profound Lore’s history—most notably Disma vocalist Craig Pillard’s NSBM affiliation and Phil McSorely’s homophobic rant that resulted in his exit from Cobalt—and to what extent they informed the decision to move forward with the label.
“It was definitely on our minds, and we were all on the same page about it," Salcedo’ states. "At the same time, for me, it’s more like, you know what? If people are going to connect us to that, if we’re gonna get flack from boneheads or whatever critics exist on the internet, the way I see it I’m just gonna go in the lion’s den. I’m gonna be a brown man in a white world and just show up and say ‘Fuck you, I’m here to stand against white supremacy and bigotry. If you want to bring up your backwards politics with me or lump me in with them...fuck you.’ I am a large brown man, I am first generation American, and quite a bit of our imagery and lyrics go back to my heritage, you know what I mean?"
"We’re not bros with [white supremacist bands], we’re not hanging out, we’re not playing golf on Sundays, we’re not at the Republican convention with them. Whatever drama there may be, there are tons of other bands on this label that don’t get down with that bullshit. It’d be different if we signed to a full on NSBM label, of course," Salcedo’ says with a laugh. "But Profound Lore has Full of Hell, SubRosa, Pallbearer, Dälek, all of these bands that aren’t aligned with that worldview and those are the bands we’re excited to see on a roster with us. So yeah there’s that shit going on, but at the same time, we’re gonna forge our own path alongside Bruni. Let’s focus on getting our music out to people who will appreciate it and not get distracted with the other stuff. We all have our personal politics, and we’ll talk to you about them if you ask, but we’re really just here for the riffs.”
In fact, Salcedo explains they’ve had only positive experiences since establishing themselves within the realm of death metal.
“Death metal has just been the most accepting genre of music that I’ve ever been involved with," he tells me." People just want to hear heavy music. They want to drink a beer, pit a little bit, bang their heads, and at the end of the night everyone shakes hands and goes home. Even touring through the States and Europe, I personally have never felt unsafe. I’ve never felt like ‘Well, this is gonna be the night where I gotta stand up and we’re gonna fight our way out. We’re gonna have a Green Room situation on our hands.’ It’s never been like that."
"If someone in that crowd has been racist, they’ve never had the gall to come up and say anything to any one of us. If they did, well then... kudos!" he says with another laugh. "It’s like ‘Wow, you’re brave… and now you’re probably gonna swallow your teeth.’"
OF FEATHER AND BONE Tour Dates:
4/01/2018 La Cosa Nostra – Mexico City, MX @ Total Death Over Mexico City [info]
5/31/2018 Rose House – Nampa, ID
6/01/2018 Barboza – Seattle, WA @ Northwest Terror Fest [info]
6/02/2018 Luckeys – Eugene, OR
6/03/2018 The Blue Lamp – Sacramento, CA
6/04/2018 Golden Bull – Oakland, CA
6/05/2018 Resident – Los Angeles, CA
6/06/2018 The Rogue – Phoenix, AZ
6/08/2018 The Black Sheep – Colorado Springs, CO @ 71Grind IV [info]
6/13/2018 Hi-Dive – Denver, CO
6/14/2018 The Cave – Santa Fe, NM w/ Tomb Mold
6/15/2018 The Lost Well – Austin TX @ Austin Terror Fest [info]
6/16/2018 Stick’s Place – Wichita Falls, TX w/ Tomb Mold
6/17/2018 Santo’s – New Orleans, LA w/ Tomb Mold
6/18/2018 Rockhouse Live – Memphis, TN w/ Tomb Mold
6/19/2018 Basement – Atlanta, GA w/ Tomb Mold
6/20/2018 Atlas Brew Works – Washington, DC w/ Tomb Mold
6/21/2018 Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA w/ Tomb Mold
6/22/2018 Saint Vitus Bar – Brooklyn, NY w/ Tomb Mold
6/23/2018 The Meatlocker – Montclair, NJ w/ Tomb Mold
Ben Hutcherson plays in Khemmis and keeps it dank on Twitter.