by Brent Mattson
VANCOUVER – If Ludwig van Beethoven grew up in the 1980s Bay Area Thrash scene instead of Cologne and if his instrument of choice was electric guitar, his compositions would probably sound something like Exmortus, the galloping L.A. metal cavalry that seamlessly blends death, thrash, black and neo-classical metal into a frantic, fantasy-themed battlefield of clashing swords and face-melting solos. Exmortus singer and guitarist Jadran “Conan” Gonzalez is a head-banging metal demon. He isn’t saying that being raised Catholic is the sole reason he is the way that he is, but it probably didn’t hurt either.
“The imagery of Jesus on the cross is terrifying as a kid,” Gonzalez explains. “Grandma telling you can’t do this and being raised to feel this kind of guilt. I always felt that kind of affected not just me but my band members to get into the darker arts of horror movies and metal.”
Indeed, song titles such as “Immortality Made Flesh,” might hint at how their Catholic upbringing led to a passion for fantasy and heavy metal. Gonzalez confirms that religion has had quite an impact on the band’s lyrical content and style.
“It played a huge role in why I’m into heavy metal,” he said. “I tried to recreate that effect of seeing Jesus on the fucking cross.” Gonzalez and his cousin, drummer Mario “Mortus” Moreno, formed Exmortus in 2002 in their native Los Angeles and they continue to be the primary songwriters of the group.
“Mario and I write the lyrics,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of the time we come up with titles even before we have a riff or a musical idea. He thought of the phrase ‘kneel before the steel;’ it’s kind of cheesy but I like how it sounds, and I would repeat the phrase until I matched it to a riff.”
Their current lineup solidified with the addition of David Rivera on lead/rhythm guitar in 2012 and Philip Nunez on bass in 2016. Gonzalez said some fans have trouble reconciling the band’s sound and the members’ shared background.
“People have said there’s a European style to our sound,” he said. “They thought we’d be from Sweden or something, but we’re southern Californian of Mexican descent.”
After two relatively straightforward fantasy-inspired thrash/death metal-infused albums – albeit on the outrageously technical side – Exmortus embraced all of their disparate influences and truly hit their stride on their last two insanely intricate albums, 2014’s Slave to the Sword and 2016’s Ride Forth. Just in case the complex interlocking guitar and bass lines didn’t give away their neo-classical leanings, the group included a Beethoven cover on each album: “Appassionata” and “Moonlight Sonata.”
“With the piano sonata, it’s is easier to arrange the two hands [playing the piano] to two guitars and bass,” the vocal-guitarist states. “The different moods that these pieces invoke have this intense stormy feel, like it’s raining and there’s a bunch of thunder. The earth’s violence,” he adds, “that goes so well with what we’re trying to portray.”
Exmortus play the Rickshaw Theatre supporting Darkest Hour on their Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora Tour Saturday December 9 with Warbringer.exmortus, Rickshaw Theatre