To retain relevance after 20+ years as a band is no small feat, especially in the over-saturated and often stylistically narrow genre of death metal. In a world ruled by the superlatives of fastest, loudest and heaviest, the lords of gore Exhumed have outgrown a competitive mindset over their last few albums and settled into simply being themselves.
“When we started out, we had that need to prove ourselves, to be as fast and extreme as we possibly could,” remembers Matt Harvey (guitars, vocals), the only founding member remaining after Exhumed’s 2010 reformation. “I totally get that approach, but it makes more sense coming from a teenager than it does from a guy in his 30s.”
Instead, Harvey claims that the key to any band or album longevity lies in the “specific energy and a specific mindset that a band has,” adding: “Of course, some of my favourite records were made by young bands in pursuit of the ‘est,’ but the magic, that unquantifiable ‘something’ that makes a great and lasting album, that’s usually something created along the way to that goal, sometimes wholly unintentionally.”
As a result of this perspective, Harvey et al. have stripped down their approach to song writing, transitioning from a technical and grind influenced approach to a decidedly old-school style.
“It’s an area of the death metal genre that is severely underdeveloped, in my opinion,” offers Harvey, who notes that the modus operandi of most bands in the vein is “intricate somehow equals better.”
“It’s like judging how good a drawing is by how many lines are in it.”
To illustrate further, Harvey quotes Hamlet and describes technical death metal as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Exhumed’s emphasis on strength through simplicity began with their third release, Anatomy is Destiny, in 2003. After a cover album in 2005 and breakup shortly after, 2011’s All Guts, No Glory continued this trend with song writing that was even more, excuse the term, conventional.
“I think a big chorus is the key element of a catchy rock song. A great build-up is important too, but if the chorus doesn’t make the listener want to sing along then to me, it’s a fail.”
Indeed, Harvey doesn’t shy away from borrowing elements of rock or even pop music: in the end, a certain element of catchiness is what gives any riff, and therefore song, a lasting impression. Exhumed’s latest effort, Necrocracy, combines the structural flow of Anatomy is Destiny with the vocal hooks of 2000’s Slaughtercult, while slowing the whole album down a few notches, spurring descriptions like “mature” from critics.
“I don’t want to make the same album again and again, that’s just boring, certainly for us, and hopefully for the listeners as well,” Harvey explains. “That said, we always try to respect the band’s existing sound and history and not throw stuff at people that would undermine that – there won’t be any dance numbers or anything.”
Though the mildly mellower tempo of Necrocracy demonstrates a greater measure of patience, the term maturity implies a departure from the band’s beginnings.
“I think that the riffs have always been rooted in the same style we started in, in fact some of the riffs on the new record are things I literally wrote in high school.”
Lyrically, Necrocracy follows the Exhumed trademark of gore as metaphor, a collection of death-centred fables rooted in political satire. The title track itself refers to corporations being given legal status as persons, as engendered in the lyric: “A morbid chorus cries out, only the dead truly live, a decrepit decree we must never forgive.” By drenching their messages in fantasy and imagery, Exhumed avoids the preachy stance of punk, and keeps distance and flexibility, according to Harvey.
“I wanted to keep it undogmatic and even basically optional. If you want to read into it, go ahead. If you like morbid sarcasm and gory imagery, you can stop there and still hopefully enjoy the lyrics. If you don’t care about the lyrics because they’re barely decipherable, that’s fine too.”
This easy-going attitude towards how audiences react and interact with Exhumed’s music is indicative of Harvey’s approach to music in general. The self-importance suffered by many musicians is simply not in his constitution.
“I think that taking yourself too seriously or believing your own hype is the most dangerous thing you can do.
“I think ultimately it’s only music, and if you want to change the world or whatever, pick another field.”
Watch Exhumed with Dying Fetus and Abiotic at the Republik on October 22, 2013.
By Ian Lemke
Photo: Valerie LittleJohn