A glimpse back to the days of old, during the formative first years of the band. Presented in monthly installments and including information on recorded efforts, influential albums and many retrospective insights into the highs and lows of MORBID DARKNESS's initial incarnation from 1989 to 1996 from the perspective of co-founder, Chris Shaver.
(Written by Chris Shaver from 2010-2012, revised 2016)
MORBID DARKNESS...okay, where do I start? After 20 years of conception, existence, extinction, rebirth, being....where do I set into motion the inception of this whole movement? I suppose the easiest way to go about this endeavor is to take the reader through a somewhat rigid but realistic series of isochronal accounts as I remember them (that is to say, to the best of my recollection). Monthly installments seem to be the best way to describe the basic work output of this band in its first 2 years from September 1989 to November 1991. After this point, the ideal way to represent our productivity in terms of time-based periods would be to describe yearly output rather than monthly output.
What was the output? Basically, we got together every 2 weeks or so and having written some new lyrics or some very humble new riffs on our own time since our last meeting, we would express these new ideas in the form of jam-tapes. These jam tapes were 95% improvisational and usually rather redundant in terms of subject matter, but it was how we evolved as a duo and how we learned the first lessons in the craft of writing and playing Heavy Metal music. In those 2 initial years we developed attitudes, identities, and aspirations with everything regarding our future in the Metal world as an ever evolving entity. We had some of the best times of our youths in those 2 years and that was just being us, sitting around doing our thing for almost no one but ourselves and a few close family members and friends. When we exposed ourselves to the rest of the world with our debut demo in late 1991, something began to take form. At the time it went almost unnoticed, but the truth was that we were changing and this entity would see some very turbulent times because of it. The bottom line, and this was on a mutual level, was that when we were alone recording jam-tapes or out walking in the city in the middle of the night talking about our future goals for this band and of our respect for one another as friends and as family we were being sincere. When we were talking to someone outside of the band about the same things on our own, the stories changed.
Our main downfall as friends and as a band was that we weren't 100% honest with each other. Simple. When we went into hiatus, or broke-up, which ever is more suitable a term for what happened initially in late 1995 and finally in the summer of 1996, we had finally come to terms with the fact that we actually did not have the same vision for this band. Of course another somewhat important detail to mention was the fact that one of us was entering a mental breakdown and that what was once an adolescent belligerence was metamorphosing into a blatant mental illness.
The main goal in these writings is to shed some light on the side of the band no one ever knew about. To me the best memories stem from this time, when we were our own band and we had no one to impress but ourselves in our voyage of learning and experimenting and becoming what we wanted to become by merit of how it felt to play and by that alone. I will publish these snippets in monthly installments, so as to almost recreate the initial evolution in real time for the reader. Though I am not publishing these works as a platform to fling shit around about anyone, I will sometimes write in a very candid manner so as to draw as accurate a picture for the reader as I can for them to understand why some things happened with this band and ultimately why I have decided to revive the band without the other co-founding member after all these years of silence. I am under no illusions as to the extent of individuals who even know anything about MORBID DARKNESS, and by no means am I trying to imply that we have ever had more than a dedicated handful of true fans. Furthermore, this has nothing to do with egotism or self-inflation, and as any of my close friends could tell you, I am extremely proud of my work but equally as modest about it.
So now, take a peer into the world of MORBID DARKNESS, beginning with a foreword which touches on some early themes regarding our initial interest in starting up a band years before we recorded our first official jam-tape in September 1989.
From as far back as I can remember, I've loved music and have been equally as enthusiastic about creating music as I have been about listening to it. But in terms of my love for the craft concerning MORBID DARKNESS, I suppose the dream began somewhere in 1987. In the summers of 1985 and 1986 I had become especially fond of my older cousin Clayton Shaver (aka Nocturnal Necromancer, Nocturnus Dominus, Rex Irae Infernus, Kane Matthews...???). We were good friends from the beginning. I looked up to him as a wise-ass smart kid who was, in the beginning, both a total geek and a bad ass at the same time (style vs. personality). I was the quieter one, he was the louder one...so I suppose that in itself would form the catalyst which one day would create the lethal mix to which MD would draw its energy from.
I distinctly remember that one year (probably summer of 1984 or 1985) Clayton came to visit one weekend and he had everything one would need to know about dinosaurs and the prehistoric eras therein. He was completely obsessed and up to his ears in the shit. I was fascinated. I too shared an interest in such things, as well as astronomy, and I believe he even once came geared up with star charts and stories of all the cool shit he had seen through his telescope back at home. I was jealous! Then one year, 1986 I believe, he showed up with a new obsession. I clearly recall him getting out of the car and adorning an 'Evil Invaders' three-quarter sleeve t-shirt (the ones with white sleeves...total old school) and brandishing a small black duffel bag which later I would discover was full of Banzai issue Metal tapes. This was his new obsession, and it was truly incredible.
I have no shame in expressing that at first, all this scary Metal shit was truly a bit much for my mind at the time. I was probably about 8 or 9 years old when he first played me 'Pleasure To Kill', 'Seven Churches', 'The Return', 'Apocalyptic Raids', 'Hell Awaits', 'Endless Pain' in 1986; all those old classics which were available in Canada via the Banzai Records label on some crappy old tape deck. Some of it made sense, some of it didn't. But back then, Billy Idol was heavy, and I had never heard of any of this shit before. I remember Clayton telling me some of the old bullshit stories such as Tom G. Warrior plunging blades into his leg during the recording of 'Triumph Of Death' or how members of POSSESSED drank human blood during Satanic rituals in the studio...or something equally ridiculous. I believed it; how couldn't I? These people were making sounds of true horror and despair. But, as these things go, I was soon obsessed with Metal myself, being more and more exposed to new bands and new styles of Metal with each consecutive visit from my geeky Metal-cousin.
I was given my first acoustic guitar for X-mas in 1986 but it didn't take. I had been building fake guitars out of plywood and to be honest I had more fun with them than some cheap acoustic guitar. I developed an obsession with drumming shortly after this and used to fashion drum kits out of just about anything I could find laying around. I began to start collecting a humble collection of Metal myself beginning with 'Master Of Puppets' and 'Ride The Lightning' in 1987. In 1988 I finally talked my dad (R.I.P. 1951-2004) into buying me an electric guitar. I remember going with him to Thompson Guitars in Vernon in the summer of '88 and walking around in a daze gawking at all the cool looking instruments which hung almost in suspended animation, awaiting a hand to reach out and pluck them from their luthier-limbo. Of course I didn't really have any say in the matter. As I wandered around in a dream, in that store that smelled like it used to be a pawn shop or a used clothes store, my dad was knee deep in a transaction which would see me taking home a black Hondo strat-copy and a 30 watt Jordan bass amp (with, among other things, a rainbow guitar strap...ugh!).
I was so stoked. I played that thing until my fingers just couldn't take any more abuse (or my ears, for that matter). It wasn't too long, however, until I realized that my bass amp wasn't going to make my guitar sound like Kerry King's or James Hetfield's. I had no idea about distortion pedals or any other effects...I just thought I was shit out of luck. I tried to play from time to time and had created the first early incarnation of MD in the form of REEK HAVOK. Between August and December 1988, we 'recorded' three demos: 'Don't Ask'; myself on guitar and vocals and my sister Jessica on drums, 'F.O.D.'; myself on guitar and Clayton on drums and vocals and 'Slumlord'; myself on guitar and vocals and Jessica on drums. These recordings were horrible, to put it mildly. We banged on old car seats for drums sounds and I strummed away like a spastic child on a clean guitar through my bass amp. And the singing was more like underdeveloped child-babble. It was a lot of fun and though it was short lived in that form, I was totally inspired to get it together and write some real Metal songs.
In late 1988/early 1989, Clayton too had received an electric guitar and amp; a Black Morris super strat and a 15 watt Fender Squier practice amp. I remember visiting him that winter and checking out his guitar. His amp, being an actual guitar amp, included an overdrive channel, which was pretty thin but clearly beat out my bass amp in terms of heaviness. It was during this time that we both began talking about taking REEK HAVOK more serious and to start recording better demos. As it turned out, we got in a bit of trouble that weekend and subsequently were forbidden to talk to each other for some months afterward (Clayton came back to Armstrong with me on the Greyhound, against his mother's wishes, and we had someone bootleg 26oz of whiskey for us...eventually we got shitfaced and were picked up by local police after lumbering around the streets in the middle of the night). During this time I began to devise new ideas and even began writing some songs imagining them to sound heavy even though I wrote them with a clean sound. Jessica had no longer showed interest in the band, but I envisioned her as the drummer nevertheless, despite her inability to drum. I couldn't play either so I believed we would all learn together.
In the summer of 1989, Clayton and I reunited. We shared notes on our individual Metal collections, though mine was small in comparison. I had bought some Slayer, Sodom, Testament, Flotsam And Jetsam, Assassin, Living Death, Forbidden...he had it all and more. We spent some time sharing our new ideas on the guitar as well and after a lot of cigarette smoking I left with a head swimming in visions of grandeur, with new Metal flowing in and out of a centralized dream of creating a real, REAL band. Soon, things in my life would be forever transformed. In some ways it seemed as though this was the beginning of my life, my new life. The past, though still clear, became an almost in-utero era of artistic and goal oriented limbo. Fall 1989 would be the beginning of a new era of my life, which to this day is ebbing and flowing in new and old ideas, inspirations and overall conceptual visions. In retrospect it would also cite the realization of some of the less charming things in my life which would develop and unfold in the coming years, such as my mother's terminal disease, my father's growing depression, my sister's trials and tribulations and Clayton's health related problems which would eventually evolve into mental problems as well. In the beginning, however, all is well and the high of finding this new and powerful meaning of life played out in a way which I would not change if I could.
In early September, sometime before my first day of school, Clayton and I had a chance to hang out for a couple of days. During this visit we had both expressed our interests in putting together a real band, and we each had had some time to practice since our last visit. We attempted to record some stuff straight away but it was brutally apparent that it just wasn't going to pan out. Something was lacking. We couldn't get past a few shitty guitar riffs and I suppose it was this uber-fragmentary product that was leaving us somewhat uninspired. Being 12 at the time, and Clayton being 15, we were probably just guilty of wanting to hear a finished product right away, complete with drums, bass, vocals and flaming-Metal guitar solos. That doesn't happen when you point a 15 watt practice amp at a Panasonic tape recorder and attempt to play like Frank Blackfire when in fact playing like Thomas G. Warrior if he'd come off of a week long meth and whiskey binge (wouldn't happen, but a fairly accurate analogy). We had high expectations and we were disappointed. But in that brief instant of failure and hopelessness, a fire was started in us both to begin our life's work and to start taking this thing seriously.
I would spend the next few weeks at home or at my mom's house (at the time I lived with my grandparents, as my parents were long divorced and both had been dealing with a plethora of personal problems), with headphones on or with a tape player in front of me, simply soaking in all the Metal I had in my collection or that Clayton had provided for me on 3rd generation TDK tapes, seeking out the essences of different Metal styles and trying to crack the code of what makes a great Metal song great. Glancing back to fall of 1988, and recalling my huge affinity for SLAYER's 'Show No Mercy' at that time, I decided to look into some occult themes as inspiration for lyrics. My sources were some 1960's era encyclopedias that adorned my grandmother's bookshelves. Therein I learned of witch's sabbats, witch's familiars, the Inquisition and loads of other Medieval-era related themes regarding Satanism and the Occult. This was great fodder for my otherwise callow imagination, as it allowed me to create situations, stories and visualizations which would eventually become lyrics to my songs.
I got a phone call from Clayton in late September and he seemed to be equally as enthusiastic about trying to record again, yet, looking back after all these years, I vividly recall sensing a succinct tone of fear or of hesitation in his voice. This was soon overshadowed by Clayton's signature erratic demeanor, which I now believe was in large part his defense mechanism; a fear response. Nonetheless, it didn't phase me enough to matter, and we both left the conversation sounding sure and strong and that was momentum enough to carry us through until we would meet again.
On September 30th I arrived at Clayton's duplex in Vernon with my bag and my guitar. I entered the nicotine smoke thick home and was greeted by my aunt (though, greeted in a very intimidating and unwelcome sort of way). From there I was hastily urged down the hall towards Clayton's bedroom, where we sat, lit up cigarettes and joked with each other in our nervous adolescent ways. Soon, very soon, we would begin recording our very first 'demo tape'.
I had toiled on some lyrics for a song called 'Alone At The Sabbat', but I had also written a humble selection of riffs designed around the lyrics. I hadn't tried full out singing, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to sing and play at the same time, so I asked Clayton to sing them in my stead. We began the recording with an eerie and drawn-out feedback intro before belting into 'Sabbat'. Immediately, we began to record the second song, which was titled 'The Incubus' and also sung by Clayton. Upon the end of that song, and being simply in awe by the aggressive and brutal vocal performance by Clayton on 'Incubus', I decided it was time to take a stab at singing. Clayton took the guitar and I picked up my lined papers with chicken scratched lyrics for 'What Will Tomorrow Bring'. My first words were expelled almost against my own body's will, and my throat burned in a dry hoarseness which was comparable to having acute tonsillitis. Once the initial burn had subsided, I tried another song, 'Last Respects' which went smoother and felt more natural. The remaining 2 songs were 'Call From The Grave' and 'Armageddon', both of which were lyrically modified BATHORY songs which Clayton rearranged and sang. When the session was over, we lit up cigarettes and sat on our clouds of self satisfaction, having finally done 'it'; we had just put into motion the gears and wheels of our lives.
After playing this slab of under produced, guitar and vocal jam-tape viciousness, over and over again, we decided to put the finishing touches on it by naming it, making a cover for the tape and jotting down all our personal thank you's, fuck you's and we miss you's on the inside of the j-card. Clayton had been sitting on the title 'Find The Arise' (ie. Xecutioner/Obituary song title; which he still claims he dreamed up himself, and which I know is total and utter bullshit) so we began tracing and cutting out a makeshift j-card with one inlay panel and discussed all the crude details. We would go under the moniker of HAVOK, dropping the REEK of past efforts, and I had already designed a blocky logo for this name. We used a 4-color Bic pen for the artwork, which was drawn using ONSLAUGHT's 'The Force' cover art as a reference. Inside we compiled a thank list and dedicated the demo to Cliff Burton, Bruce Day (of HELLHAMMER, who we though was dead) and Jeff Beccera (whom we thought had died from his gunshot wound)...we were so young and slightly misinformed. After finishing up the tape cover, Clayton informed me that he had actually written lyrics for a song called 'Find The Arise', and that he would like to use them on our next tape. We then scrapped the cover and decided to title the tape 'Last Respects'. This was the official beginning of what would eventually become MORBID DARKNESS.
So September had ended on a HAVOK note, and we were both eager to meet again and unleash our second 'demo' tape, which we had both agreed would be entitled 'Find The Arise'. We decided to try and get together on Thanksgiving weekend, which was a mere week after the recording of 'Last Respects'. Of course, my family had planned a weekend trip to Spokane, WA on that very occasion. Despite my initial discontent, I soon realized that I'd have a great opportunity to buy some 'hard-to-find' Metal stateside. You see, Vernon in 1989 didn't offer a whole lot of selection when it came to Metal. During the mid-80's, it was quite easy to find anything on the Banzai Records label, which was a Canadian-based licensee of many Metal Blade, Noise and Roadrunner releases. Imports were a rare find around here, and one would often have to embark on trips to metropolitan centers such as Vancouver or Calgary just to find something more interesting than what you could pick up at the local K-mart.
While in Spokane, I stumbled upon a lot of different shit that I hadn't even heard of, but being somewhat unseasoned in the art of Metal-shopping abroad, I stuck to what I had heard of or read reviews for. While we rode back to Canada in our RV on a chilly early-autumn night, I blasted my ears out with Walkman headphones to the sounds of DARK ANGEL, RIGOR MORTIS, VIKING and TESTAMENT. More and more, I found, I was both enjoying and appreciating the music but I found myself equally observant of song structures, style nuances and production factors. Simple joy was slowly becoming something much more complex and profound, and while I can reflect and understand these things after 20 years, at the time, it all seemed a bit bewildering and invasive. This was when I realized that there was a part of me which was growing and growing, more than I even knew at the time. I suppose that a part of me was convinced that as a 'band', Clayton and I would be growing like this together, and the fact that our first tape displayed and celebrated our equality as 'musicians' further proved this belief. Things would soon change.
Mid-October saw our reuniting and immediately we began recording our second tape. We had decided to record 10 or so songs as opposed to a mere 5 or 6. We had also decided to try new versions of a couple of the songs from 'Last Respects'. I had provided a brand new blank tape for the demo, and I believe it was a 60 minute runner of an unknown brand. Once we filled the first side of the tape, we decided to jump the gun and see how the first couple of songs turned out. Much to our casual despair, the tape had turned out to be defective, and all we could hear was the consistent flutter of guitar and vocals weaving in and out like some persistent and annoying Doppler signal from hell. We were pissed, but the day was relatively young, and after spending the last couple of weeks obsessing over this effort, we weren't going to waiver because of some mechanical complication. Clayton abruptly produced a used TDK tape from his 'blank tape drawer' and production resumed. After finishing the main selection of lyrics we had allotted for the demo, Clayton requested that we try a cover of METALLICA's 'Four Horsemen'. I had no idea how to play the song, not even an uneducated guess. I knew how to pluck a string, and I thought I knew how to choose a sequence of notes which would create a relatively satisfactory result, but when it came to other people's music, I was in the fucking dark. The horrible cover attempt did prove to lighten the mood, and we milked it. Before long, we were covering 'Hell Awaits', and DRI's 'No Sense' in a 10+ minute medley barrage and making complete asses of ourselves...but, it was a well deserved reward.
Upon wrapping up our recording session, we listened back in awe at our new and improved sound (only slightly better than 'Last Respects', in reality). We redid 'Sabbat', 'WWTB' and 'Incubus' and added a few new songs such as 'Decapitation', 'Morbid Exhibition' and 'Reaper' (BATHORY lyrics). We were deeply inspired and we were both very proud of each other. Beyond any doubt, we were on this road for good.
Within a few days I was sick, sick, sick. I was ill for over 3 weeks, into November, so we had plenty of time to write new lyrics. I wrote dozens of lyrics in those weeks, and some of them would see their way to a HAVOK recording in the future...but it wouldn't be that soon. We wouldn't meet again until late November.
In November things were relatively quiet. I don't exactly remember why, perhaps it was the fact that I had missed a couple of weeks of school in October due to the flu and had to make up my school work 2-fold, but November just wasn't producing the same enthusiasm as previous months. I was still writing tons of lyrics and noodling a bit on the guitar, and I was buying new Metal tapes and becoming more and more inspired, but the overall feeling in this month was a bit troubling. On a plus side, while glancing through the October '89 issue of Guitar Player 'zine, I discovered 'palm muting'. You see, I had always known about it, as I could differentiate it quite easily from playing open chords or single note runs. But, having no overdrive in my bass amp or any fuzz or distortion pedals at my disposal, I always assumed palm muting was in fact pick scraping. I had attempted to try this on the last couple of demos but through Clayton's guitar amp it sounded horrible. So we resorted to playing mostly single note riffs on our tapes.
When we got together in late November, one of the first things I showed Clayton was the art of palm muting, though I gladly admit it was probably the most sloppy palm muting you'd ever heard. When we began to record our new tape I began by playing an instrumental intro titled 'Necrology (The Endless List)'. It was something new, but I think in the throes of mid-production learning, we decided to ease up on the palm muting once I had finished the intro. It just didn't seem popular at the time. I realize now that Clayton was displaying his disdain for another reason: fear. He was not a natural when it came to playing the guitar. I noted more and more instances of this unwillingness to learn in the coming months, and every time I brought something new it was immediately made fun of or dismissed as irrelevant to what we were doing. Nevertheless, being younger and a guest in his house, I wasn't about to get too heavy about it. We decided then to again re-record some of the songs from 'Last Respects', specifically, 'Sabbat', and 2 versions of 'The Incubus'; one with Clayton on vocals and one with me on vocals. That was the extent of that tape, as I think some unspoken tensions had arisen, literally killing our motivation. Afterwards we walked up to the mall and I purchased DRI's 'Thrash Zone' and HELLHAMMER's 'Apocalyptic Raids'. We spent the rest of the weekend inside as it was becoming quite arctic at that time but I'll never forget our detour when returning from the mall at this old rock quarry on the edge of town. From the summit of the small mound we could see most of Vernon, cold and dark in the wintry night. We sat and smoked for a time, discussing more and more details about our Metal dream and of future goals and scenarios. Before leaving the quarry, which would become a regular hang out spot for us in later months, we named the mound 'Sitting Death', suggested by Clayton after Thomas Fischer's title for his artwork for the 'Apocalyptic Raids' cover. How fitting. We were both excited about the future but there was a sense of death and decay that exuded from every aspect of our relationship and in our personal lives outside of our friendship. I was too young to see anything obviously wrong, I just had a strange gut feeling that things were in a state of decay.
Later in November, long after recording our third tape, and while walking with my mom back to her home (which was about a 20 minute walk from my grandparents house), she fell down on the road. I figured she had hit some ice underneath the light skiff of snow which was lying on the ground at the time. A few seconds after getting up and our walk resumed, she fell again. We laughed together, as she hadn't hurt herself at all with either fall, but inside I was dying because I knew in my heart what was really happening. My mother was developing Huntington's Chorea, which is a neurologically degenerative and ultimately fatal disease. I knew very little of the disease except that my grandmother on my mom's side had died from it in the year that I was born and that my mom's sister, whom I had never recalled meeting, had been diagnosed with the illness years before. I didn't get the big picture at all, and I didn't fully understand the disease because it wasn't a topic anyone in my family seemed comfortable talking about. All I could do was simply worry. And that's what I did; but I did it secretly, on my own time, in the dark moments when my pre-adolescent life wasn't bombarded with all the other more desirable concerns or situations. Despite this mildly haunting realization, life would go on and things would evolve and metamorphose both in my personal life and with Clayton and our band.
December 1989 saw a lot of new and exciting things as well as some deeper themes and coming truths. In early December, we got together and produced a 3 song tape titled 'Easy Prey'. Musically, the effort was standard issue HAVOK, but vocally, things were getting experimental. What was before a straight ahead child-voiced death metal vocal style became reminiscent of Sy Keeler's signature growl/scream style. I had been quite inspired by ONSLAUGHT's 'The Force' during late November, and as with most kids, you try to imitate what inspires you. However, the result was less than great and this tape became more of a joke than anything else after we had listened to it a few times. In our angst, we decided to leave the house and made a voyage downtown, where I was intending to buy some cheap Series A guitar strings. We entered Hypersound, which doubled as a music store and recording studio. While browsing their humble but impressive collection of musical instruments, we were accosted by a young salesman who noticed us gawking at an array of effect pedals. We knew about pedals but had no idea what they did, except that some of them produced echo effects. He plugged into a Boss multi-effect pedal and began his presentation (with hopes of making a sale, no doubt, though we were convinced he was unlocking these 'secrets' out of sheer goodwill). We were floored! Now we realized how all these great Metal bands get that sound that we thusfar were miserably unable to emulate. Immediately we were bugging our parents about buying us this new and exciting accessory. A couple of weeks later, our efforts came to fruition.
While in transit to Clayton's for the weekend, a few of our family members convened at Foundation Music (later Lee's Music) to pick us each out a distortion pedal as early X-mas gifts. When we returned to Clayton's, all we did for hours was test out our new toys. Once we decided on a sound, we began to record our new tape, which we had decided would contain a reworked 'Sabbat' rendition and all new songs with the exception of a newer version of 'Easy Prey' and a poor cover of POSSESSED's 'Swing Of The Axe'. Initially, we were awestruck. Our sound had been transformed from thin and tinny to something which almost resembled SLAUGHTER's 'Strappado' guitar sound! Clayton had also become more experimental in his vocal approach and used an almost whisper-growl, reminiscent of MALHAVOC's 'Shrine' album. One thing was very clear, however, and this was that besides the POSSESSED cover, all the lyrics had been written by myself, and with the exception of the songs 'Carmilla' and 'Stroke Of Mercy', all the guitars were played by myself as well. At the time this wasn't even an issue. I had written so many songs in October and November that this served as a clearance of surplus, in a manner of speaking. Looking back, I have a different perspective. As long as I knew Clayton to be active in lyric writing, I also noticed that he borrowed a lot of song titles and themes from bands he was listening to at the time. Years later I would discover that a lot of the lyrics he used for these tapes were actually used in word-for-word scenarios. Regardless, this was our work and you did what you had to do to learn and grow and to develop yourself as an artist.
In late December, while getting off school for the X-mas break, I decided to record a tape by myself in my grandparent's basement (which is where my bedroom was situated). The idea was to finish the second side of the 60 minute TDK tape which served as the master for 'Stroke Of Mercy'. As we had redone 'Easy Prey' on the last tape, I wanted to record a new rendition of another song which first appeared on the 'Easy Prey' tape. 'The Entity' was a lyric which my mom wrote for me inspired by the early 80's film of the same name. The content was perfect for HAVOK so I agreed to use it. The original version was about 5 minutes long and was less than inspiring. This new version would stretch to almost 29 minutes, which was total overkill, but it was the first tape that was recorded without Clayton and still bore the HAVOK moniker. The purpose of these tapes was in fact to document our evolving style and to record our new ideas as they came to us in more or less an improvisational method of songwriting. The only reason we 'titled' these tapes was for the sake of identity. I suppose deep down, we were regarding these recordings as 'releases' except for the fact that they weren't being released nor did we intend to release them. So, my casual use of the HAVOK name for 'The Entity' was just that; a casual labeling of another facet of our formative recordings.
Though he did not say it in so many words, I believe Clayton was slightly annoyed by this nonchalant move. I played him the recording in late December, just before the new year and I believe it got him to thinking about things over the next few weeks which would bring some changes to our band project in a few notable ways.
Early in the new year, it had become evident that something needed to change in terms of our musical direction, creative processes and overall collective work. At home, I began to put together compositions both lyrically and now musically. The process of improv writing/recording was still valid, and we had no real intentions of abandoning those methods, but as a growing musician I felt it was time to begin putting together works that I could play again and again in what is commonly known as standard songwriting. I must have written 10 to 12 songs in early January, albeit simply structured and very basic ones, but songs nonetheless. I had planned to use some of these songs on the next tape and realized that if I wanted to do any singing, I'd have to do it while I played the guitar. The reason? Clayton had been falling short in both the musical and lyrical departments. He was still eager to play and to be productive but I am sure that as he watched my slow but persistent growth on the guitar playing front, his own insecurities were surfacing; because his playing wasn't really progressing much at all. In fact, as my playing became a bit more structured and methodical, his playing became more and more chaotic and disheveled. It didn't matter to me at the time. I went with the flow and adjusted my role in the band accordingly. There was no pressures back then and we didn't have to answer to anyone so logically we adapted to our environment within the band.
Later in the month, we got together and discussed some things that Clayton on his own had pondered and brought to the table for consideration. In his eyes, HAVOK had come to the end of its creative apex, and his solution for moving forward was to change the direction of the music, lyrics and perhaps by even changing our band's name. He had suggested the new moniker be MORBID DARKNESS, and he gave me a real tale about how he had thought up the name. [Months later I would find, while browsing through Clayton's extensive tape collection, that he had actually lifted the MD moniker from the liner notes of HOLY TERROR's 'Mind Wars', which he had bought a couple of months before suggesting our name change.] I was on board, and the fact that I had been writing songs for the last couple of weeks which were evolved stylistically, I felt it was all very fitting. Back at Clayton's, we began to record the new tape, though instead of playing through his amp, I had brought my amp along (now that I had a distortion pedal, I could actually use the bass amp) and I played all the rhythm while Clayton sang and played guitar solos. I sang on the second track, a reworked version of 'Sabbat' and I attempted to sing on a track entitled 'Spellbound', but the first and only thing that could come out of my mouth was 'Fuck'. The riffs were tricky and I wasn't that coordinated to pull of singing tricky lyrics over them. At that point, we decided our new roles in the band would be myself on rhythm guitars and backing vocals and Clayton on guitar solos and lead vocals. It suited me because I felt Clayton was the stronger singer and it suited Clayton because he couldn't keep up with my guitar playing and he was beginning to develop his own brand of playing guitar solos. We titled the tape 'When Hell Freezes Over' after the original title of METALLICA's 'The Call of Kthulu'.
Nearing the end of the month, I continued to write and became increasingly involved in these new compositions. I had fashioned a makeshift drum kit in my grandparent's basement where I would play along to my recorded single guitar riffs from a writing tape. I decided to make a project of some of these songs and recorded 2 consecutive tapes under the MORBID DARKNESS moniker without Clayton, again, titled 'Enthronement Of Theocracy' and 'Infernal Devastation', respectively. Both tapes boasted 6 songs and showcased my very first experiments in 'tape bouncing' using prerecorded sections of songs, playing drums and singing while re-recording the first recorded elements...kind of like bouncing tracks on a 4-track recorder, but much more degenerative as each new part was layered on. The tapes lacked some magic, but these new techniques would open up new doors for future efforts within the band.
If nothing else, February of 1990 had squarely established our respective roles in the band. While Clayton had basically taken over vocal and guitar solo duties, I was in charge of all rhythm guitars and occasional backing vocals. This really worked for me, as my singing-whilst-playing had produced unsuitable results. As my playing style was evolving more in the rhythm realm it felt better for me to showcase and develop it. I'm sure Clayton felt the same with his own exclusive duties. We recorded 2 tapes in one weekend visit, entitled 'Infernal Message' and 'For Whom The Bells Toll', respectively. At this point our recording setup was as follows: my rhythm guitars through my Profile distortion pedal and Jordan bass amp; situated a few feet from the tape recorder, Clayton's solos through his distortion pedal and Fender guitar amp; also a few feet from the tape recorder, and Clayton's vocals into a cheap Radio Shack dynamic microphone through a portable stereo that had a karaoke feature (mic preamp). The speakers from that stereo were wall mounted quite high in the room, producing an ambient effect on the final recording, which was a basic monaural reproduction. We had also used this technique on the 'Hell Freezes' tape, but prior to this we had simply used Clayton's Fender amp situated 6-12 inches from the recorder and sang into the built-in microphone at close proximity, taking turns either playing the guitars or singing, but never both. The only exception was the 'Entity' tape, which I recorded on a tape recorder that boasted stereo built-in microphones, whereby I sang and played guitars simultaneously.
The 2 tapes featured very long songs and were marginally boring except for the fact that Clayton had used a few prerecorded sound effect snippets as intros to some of the songs (i.e. EXORCIST's 'The Consuming Flames of Redemption', 'The Hex' and 'The Invocation', DARK ANGEL's 'Worms' and BATHORY's intro to 'Raise The Dead'). The sound was very ambient due to the distances of the audio sources from the microphone. Nonetheless, more than a few ideas came from these sessions, such as some of the riffs which would become 'Ascend From Blackened Skies' (MORBID DARKNESS Demo 1991) and quite a few riffs which would soon become composed songs later in this same month (such as 'Culture Of Distort', 'Wake Not The Dead', 'Knights Templars', the first 2 of which appear on the YEARS OF THE LOST: Volume 1 compilation). Clayton's input was also broadening as most of the lyrics on these tapes were his. This month seemed to trigger a lot of musical and lyrical proliferation. After the tapes were recorded early in the month, I began to write fully composed works hoping to further develop my style and prepare for a tentative studio stint that we had talked about possibly doing at Hypersound Studio (where we learned about distortion pedals months earlier) sometime later in the year. By this time and having no real knowledge of standard tuning or chords, I had developed a tuning system which was basically as follows, starting with low E: E, G#, C, F, A, D# (some of the open notes changed from time to time over the next year or so, but this was my standard). Rather than play standard 1,3,5 power chords, I used a diad in the bar position (figure 1), which by my tuning system suggested a major chord. This produced a fairly one dimensional sound, giving a slightly happy hint to some of my riffs, except when used in certain chromatic progressions, which created a slightly eerie effect.
By month's end, our once sludgy Doom/Death Metal style had quite evidently become more like Speed Metal with a hint of Death Metal. As friends we were becoming less conflicting and more comfortable hanging out. Our age difference always created a bit of an offset between us, despite the fact that we were both in many ways alike. As we mutually realized this fact, our visits became more productive and valuable. The evolution of this band would see many twists and turns and alterations of attitude and of reason, but this was the good time; in fact, one of the best. From this point the sheer excitement of making new music would fuel us more than we even realized at the time. We had created a new itinerary with new concepts and were on the path to seeing those new ideas come to life.
I will also add, because it became a relevant source of Metal releases entering my growing collection, that February was the month that we each received our 'Metal Disc' catalogs. A couple days after receiving that catalog I also received my Slipped Disc and Pack Central catalogs, though they were less impressive. These pages and pages of Metal releases really opened my eyes to the grand variety of Metal that existed, most of which I had never heard of before. Thanks in most part to my mother (R.I.P. 1953-2009) I was making orders every couple of months and gaining a much better perspective and appreciation for a lot of different Metal in a lot of different genres.
March saw a load of new music entering my collection, thanks in large part to my mom and Metal Disc (and Ken, too...inside joke), and as the content of my Metal collection grew, so too did my enthusiasm for writing new songs for MORBID DARKNESS. At this point, though I am still uncertain exactly why, I was on a private mission to write 5 or 6 songs for our 'some-day' studio demo (which was at this point untitled). I couldn't really ask Clayton to participate in this task for several reasons. Firstly, and foremost, our playing styles by this time were quite different. I can't discredit Clayton's playing because he was still progressing, albeit in a drastically alternate direction, and being that his main guitar playing input in the band scenario was exclusively guitar solos, his leads excelled (while,admittedly his rhythm playing was undernourished and neglected). Secondly, I had a general vision for what I wanted the songs to sound like. There was a handful of specific characteristics that I hoped to display with these songs. Of course, these characteristics were some which I had not yet developed as a musician and songwriter, so I was essentially striving to create something which I didn't even know how to build. It would require much more trial and error before I could even come close to what I was envisioning. Unfortunately, in a band setting which was primarily recording improvisational jam sessions, I couldn't really focus on specific details of songs without making our 45 minute sessions extremely one dimensional and boring; repeating riffs and testing out riff transitions a hundred times in a row, etc. Any songwriter knows that this kind of involved shit is best done on their own time, on their own jam tapes to develop potential riffs or song ideas without driving the rest of the band crazy. Besides this, Clayton relied on live improv to find his groove when it came to songs, and he wasn't one to sit down and figure out riff transitions or anything remotely song related, so his involvement would have garnered more harm than good. Thirdly, our music consisted of 2 coexisting parts: improvisation and composition; the first being what we mainly did together, the second being what we mainly did alone. We hadn't yet fused those two pieces of the band into a functional and practical process, so to force it would undoubtedly have produced unsavory results. I will underline that the aforementioned reflections were something which at the time weren't really even though about at all; this was simply how things were progressing naturally. Besides all of these trivial details, the fact of the matter was that we didn't even know if this demo would ever really materialize at all. On I wrote.
In the latter part of the month the two of us got together to record a couple of new tapes. I had suggested a couple of cool song titles to Clayton on the phone prior to our meeting and explained a few concepts regarding the titles. When we began recording he pulled out a handful of papers with new lyrics, some of which I had offered my input on regarding titles or ideas but which were mostly his own. The first tape, 'Three Days Of Darkness' exploded into existence very organically. It was basically the first side of a 90 minute TDK tape and boasted about a dozen songs. The first and most prevalent change from the February tapes was the speed. I had been practicing fast alternate picking and palm muting for a couple of weeks while I was writing some songs so by the time we had convened for recording I had gotten fairly fast (215 bpm), though, almost equally as sloppy. The energy was great and we certainly rolled with it. The following day we recorded the B-side of the TDK tape as a new separate 'demo' which we titled 'Slaughter The Remains'. More of the same, really; speedy and energetic, though admittedly lacking song identity like the older HAVOK classics had embodied. These tapes really spawned a new direction for us to embark on, though it wouldn't go on for long before shifting yet again, which really became a common theme for us. This was but another step in our gradual evolution and like in any such instance what tomorrow brought would have to be welcomed with openness lest it would collapse dead on the spot.
Late in the month, after receiving a large shipment of Metal, concepts would stretch and skew and I would become more and more curious about songwriting and guitar playing. Soon I would invest a fair amount of time to learning other peoples riffs, or at least in my own way by using what resources I knew. On a very warm day near the end of the month, Clayton showed up at my house with his gear and excitedly announced he was going to spend the night at his father's house (which was located next door to my grandparents house, a short walk away on the same 10 acre parcel of property). Being that the weather was so great, albeit late coming this particular year, we decided to set up on the deck and record a 'live' demo. [I should explain this concept with a bit more detail. Our late 1988 recording, REEK HAVOK's F.O.D. tape was recorded on this very deck, which at the time we had always fantasized as one day being where we would set up our local shows. The deck overlooked a fairly large field which we felt would accommodate enough people to at least make up the minimum amount needed to put on a Metal show in the first place...we were young, what else can I say?] This 'live' demo was recorded with the idea that we were actually recording it in front of an audience, so Clayton had his little raps and between-song banters. We basically just played some previously recorded songs, some unrecognizable covers and some other fun shit. It was all just for fun anyway, to spend an hour in the warm March sun in the country and record a new tape. Afterwards, we walked to my mom's house via the railway tracks and began to discuss our next tape idea. Needless to say we were at this point going in a different direction than ever before and it wouldn't be without its ebb and flow. We knew by this time that change was inevitable and we usually greeted it with relatively good humor. April would see progression and decline almost simultaneously and would essentially open a door to some activities which threatened to put an end to all of this indefinitely.
"We need like 50 songs."
This was the statement. This was the goal. It would be done. At least that is what we wanted to believe. We decided early in the month that our next tape would run at 90 minutes long and contain about 50 songs. In a series of phone calls during the first week of April we mainly discussed song titles. Being that 50 songs would have to be written lyrically, we needed to collectively create titles and brief concept overviews for them all and discussing our ideas openly seemed to get the most results. At the time we were hard pressed to invent 50 original song titles and I specifically recall referring to my Metal Disc and Slipped Disc catalogs for some cheats. Some titles I lifted included 'Impulse To Destroy' (Blood), 'Depression' (Poltergeist) and 'Evil Friendships' (Deliverance). I only used titles from bands I hadn't heard yet or knew very little about, which I suppose eased my mind from any guilt of such an unoriginal course of actions. I had admittedly used some titles from literary works in the past, but that was a bit different. In this case I was directly fucking with Metal! Aside from the large body of new lyrics, we decided to redo a couple of titles from the March tapes, as we felt we could now achieve an improved energy.
At home I continued working on musical compositions, though to a slightly lesser degree in this particular month. I had developed a hunger to learn some songs which I liked at the time and I began trying to decipher them on my guitar using my offbeat tuning system. Some songs were quite beyond my abilities but others were actually fairly easy to convert. Had I been playing standard power chords I'd say my renditions were 90% correct. At the time, having not been trained in even the most basic guitar lessons, this was a major feat for me. It is safe to say that this diversion may have affected what would on the first weekend in April become our next tape 'Wide Are The Gates', but it is also safe to say that we had already set ourselves up for the disappointments which would ensue.
The recording process seemed like it would never end. Despite the fact that the first song, a redone version of 'Three Days Of Darkness', had displayed a marginal improvement from its precursory attempt the month before, the energy waned fairly quickly into the session. Song after song of monotonous vocals, guitars and guitar solos made this conceptual epic recording one of utter boredom. The most fun I had was trying to sing some of the songs while playing rhythm guitar, which wasn't so much fun as it was a challenge. Somewhere on the second side of the tape I threw in some riffs from VIKING's 'White Death' which I had just learned to play days before. The final high point was probably a song titled 'Metal Road' which Clayton wrote about our future lives on the road basking in the Metal life. We played back the tape with a general and mutual idea of how it had turned out...about the same as it felt recording it: contrived, drawn out and almost devoid of any life or magic. Needless to say I probably have only ever played this tape straight through a handful of times. It bombed. Of course, 20 years later, I now have the upper hand of looking at this recording with a slightly more objective view. I understand now and accept it for what it is.
Our motivation took a bit of a turn after the recording of this tape. At this point we both agreed that we couldn't continue on this path and that more energy would have to be directed at writing proper songs. This was the thinking when our 'dream' studio demo became more and more of a serious goal and I began to focus on developing what songs I felt were the strongest of the batch I had been working on for the last few months. But I was also learning a bunch of cover songs and I personally felt that the experience of having the insight into these other songs might strengthen my own songs as a result. By the last week in April I had learned half a dozen songs and had worked on about 3 of my own compositions to the point where I felt it was time to do something with them. Our telephone conversations consisted of the aforementioned statements and I pitched the idea that we try recording both the covers as well as the originals as a trial of sorts, as well as utilizing established material rather than improv work. I suggested we call the tape 'Immortal Way Of Live'.
Just before April came to a close, Clayton arrived with his gear. After taking a walk in the country to smoke a bunch of cigarettes and discuss the songs we'd be recording we set up our gear in 'the garage', a once humble living quarters which had become a storage shed (this was later named Tormension Studio). As it turned out, Clayton would only be there for a few hours and it was already getting fairly late in the day. I had recorded a backing rhythm guitar track the day before which would act as the first guitar playback track, which would be rolling as I played a live second rhythm guitar part and Clayton performed live vocals and guitar solos. Because the tape no longer exists (it was lost during a move in 1992) I can rely only on my memory as to the track listing. I do know for sure that the following cover songs were attempted: SLAYER's 'South Of Heaven', VIKING's 'White Death' and 'Winter', COVEN's 'Iron Dick' and METALLICA's 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'. We tried a few originals at the tail end: a reworked 'Alone At The Sabbat' with new lyrics, a track called 'The Boiling Cauldron' and another called 'Spurious Warfare', both of which made appearances in one form or another on our tapes since January 1990.
This was an utter failure. I had told Clayton well in advance which songs I had learned to play and I asked him to listen to them and to practice them beforehand. [I might add that my 'well in advance' may in fact only have been one or two days...such is the way when you're basically a kid, days are much longer in the earlier years...] The exception was the COVEN song, which I don't think he had a copy of at the time to use as reference. Even so, it was as if he had never heard any of these songs before. I was so frustrated by the time we were finished that I literally wanted to walk away and never try this again. It was brutal and intensely humbling but after the initial mortification had subsided my drive slowly came back into being. Looking back, we had again set ourselves up for major disappointment. We hadn't practiced any of the songs together, the chords I was playing probably threw Clayton off a bit and we had placed so much emphasis on the idea that everything was going to work out without a hitch that we just died inside when it so painfully didn't. We walked out into the now cold and moist late afternoon air after the playback and both felt humiliated and miserable.
Something about that experience did something to us on a much deeper and profound way than we could even see at the time. It wasn't like we were going to quit playing or anything severe like that. But the sense of accomplishment we had experienced only months before as HAVOK was getting harder to achieve. Our standards were getting higher, perhaps faster than the rate at which our own music was evolving, and as a result it was becoming easier to spew out aural drivel and harder to collectively create something worth listening to ever again. But, as I worked alone on our 'dream' demo compositions and tried to learn all my favorite songs on the side, our once mutual bond was secretly and slowly becoming undone to take on new form and new face. Because we couldn't mutually produce results in the music department that met our rising standards, we turned to other means for kicks...in a word, mischief. Actually, two words: destructive mischief. Over the next few weeks it was this very thing which would throw a wedge between us in more ways than we could comprehend. Actions and consequences were two relative things which we had dealt with in the past, but being young and naive, we took the wrong path again and again. The month began with high hopes and ended with sour notes; all in exaggerated discord and acute dissonance. What a month.
After the disappointing efforts of April and their effects had subsided in early May, a few interesting developments arose. We had both agreed that our direction was becoming a bit shaky and that we should buckle down on something substantial if we were going to continue on our path. After having learned some songs the month before, my own compositions were feeling more solid and organic. We hadn't really discussed recording any improv tapes this month, as that process seemed to be failing us of late, so I focused on the 'dream' demo material to keep me occupied. As it was, we wouldn't be seeing each other until mid-month anyway, so this was a good opportunity to take a breather, so to speak. In the first couple of weeks of May I developed some concepts for the 'dream' demo. I had stumbled upon a 2 x 3 inch thumbnail of a Medieval battle scene in a Social Studies textbook which totally inspired me to write and record some rough tracks at home. This artwork would adorn the cover of our demo, I was sure of this. It portrayed the effects of war; the sadness, the sorrow, the rage, the death. These themes were perfect for Metal, and in line with what 'visions' or images came to mind when I listened to some of my favorite albums. Abruptly, though a very obvious play on words, the title 'The Mourning After' sprang to my mind. Obviously the concept of mourning after a Medieval carnage would be very widespread and prevalent, and the fact that the title boasted word-play held a certain amount of appeal to me.
Having found a working title for the 'demo which we wanted to record but didn't have any idea how or when' or the 'dream' demo, I found a groove with which to carry my composition ideas along on. After polishing up some older riffs and putting together some better structures, I began rough tracking the songs so that I could develop them and decide which ones would be the most suitable for the demo. 4 of these early tracks can be heard on the 'Years Of The Lost: Volume 1' (as tracks 1-4, with additional parts recorded later in 1990). After a week or so of mad tracking, I figured I had the blueprint for the demo, in this order: 1. Untitled (later named 'Premedicated Remedy' and later yet 'Premeditated Remedy'...thanks DEMOLITION HAMMER!), 2. The Boiling Cauldron, 3. Spurious Warfare, 4. Execrations (formerly, and again later, 'Spellbound'), 5. The Mourning After. With this blueprint finally coming to fruition, I spent most of my time developing and bettering this handful of tracks for our debut demo.
Somewhere during this brief period, in what I now conclude to be brought upon by force of habit, I went ahead and recorded another MORBID DARKNESS improv demo on my own titled 'Cry Of The Hangman'. I had felt the urge to record something besides the rough tapes for the demo so this 4 song quickie seemed to do the job. I continued my process from the January tapes of recording a rhythm guitar track first, playing it back on a second tape deck while playing and recording percussion and then playing the 'mixed' tape back while recording vocals and guitar solos. In January I had used a steel deep freeze rack as a hi hat and a sewing stool as a snare drum (no tom fills, kick drum or crash cymbals) primarily for the effect of having some sort of beat to accompany the riffs. This month I had to settle with some other thin steel contraption which when placed on my tile floor produced a washy hi hat effect, and the same sewing stool as a snare. I remember the fun of having to chase the 'hi hats' as they bounced around freely on my floor, momentarily cutting out on the recording as I repositioned them on the fly. It was fun to do something which I could play back and enjoy again, though I was still feeling mildly depressed that the recordings with Clayton of late weren't producing the same results. I recall playing the tape for Clayton over the phone, whilst we both chuckled about certain elements, as we often did with our own recordings. The songs were serious but they had a fun feel to them and it seemed to go over well with Clayton at the time. It was during one of these phone calls when we conceived plans for some destructive mischief as well as some possible theft in the coming weeks. Looking back, it's hard to determine what was behind this shit. I suppose the few acts of vandalism we had practiced before had given us a high which was hard to beat. God knows our musical endeavors as a unit weren't doing much for us, and mischief was a cheap and effective high which required no real effort, or skill, but I truly think deeper and more complex things were at work here. Who knows for sure?
Mid-month, my family had left for a stateside motor home trip for a little over a week. I was left alone in the house during this time and was to use this time to concentrate on my songs. A few days after they left, Clayton and I got together. I had no gear except for my modified jacket, which now boasted huge inner pockets that would soon hold some stolen tapes from K-mart. The air was unsettled and we both knew it, but we went ahead with our plans. I'm not going to get too specific about all the happenings that unfolded that evening nor am I going to divulge what activities were cut short due to our arrests, but I feel the event is significant in this story and this is solely why I am letting it become known now. After a humiliating several hours in custody at the police station (handcuffed together on chairs outside of the hoosegow), I was swiftly escorted home with Clayton, his mother and her half-sister Barb. What a ride of shame that was; rain pouring, cold and dark and with an unspeakable shroud of fear for what ramifications would arise in the wake of this pitiful act. I was dropped off at my mom's house and there I was yelled at some more. I simply curled up on the couch after the riot act ended and entered a most uneasy sleep. It was all I could do to stifle the guilt which was eating away at me like some gnashing rabid dog on a sinewy old scrap of roadkill. Ugh.
After all the shit blew over we were left with new realities. We were forbidden to hang out after this incident and for an indefinite and undisclosed amount of time, though we were allowed some phone calls. This was just the worst thing that could happen, and all for a few cassettes! We talked on the phone in brief at spaced out intervals and decided that we'd let everything settle a bit before deciding what to do next. At this point I was not willing to let go of my musical goals. I continued to record rough demos of the 'Mourning After' songs and wrote lyrics for most of them. I seemed to recall having conversations with my mother in the latter part of the month, and in one instance in the small field behind her house one late evening where someone had been burning grass in a controlled brush fire. We sat out there in the night and smoked cigarettes together, while I talked her ears off about our goals and aspirations to record this demo in the studio. I distinctly remember the moon peaking through the clouded sky, and resembling almost identically the cover of BATHORY's 'The Return...'. I came away from the discussions with the keen notion that she was going to foot the bill for our 'upcoming' studio demo. I'm going to conclude now that it was partly her sympathy for my run in with juvenile law and partly her slowly developing degenerative disease; which affects judgement and speech, among other things. In any case, being a naive young punk who had just turned 13 years old, I was now under the sincere impression that this demo was going to happen once Clayton and I were allowed to hang out again, which in my mind could not be longer than a month or two. Armed with this revelation, my goal was clear: prepare for war. Okay, prepare to record. However, as I've seen first hand throughout my years, to record can be very much like war. Moving on... I had established a few conclusions. Firstly, I had no drum set, but I knew a couple of people who did. A worst case scenario was that the studio would have an adequate enough drum kit to accommodate my boxy drumming style. Secondly, the run time of the tape would be about 20 minutes, so I used a perspective model of 1 drum take, 2 rhythm guitar takes, 1 vocal take and a few solos as my equation and concluded that the session should take no more than a couple of hours to record. Young and naive. Nonetheless, this was the mentality and at roughly $50 per hour for studio time, this demo would only cost a couple hundred dollars at the most...very achievable, I thought.
Quite abruptly, I recorded a doubled up guitar tape (recording track 1 on a my tape recorder and playing it back afterwards on my ghetto blaster while playing track 2 live and recording the two parts as a singular mono mix) which would act as a practice tape so that I could work on the drum parts and as a reference tape for my upcoming week-long class field trip up to Calgary. I distinctly recall setting up a fake drum kit to practice on over the coming weeks. Essentially, the kit consisted of my trusty sewing stool, 5 one gallon ice cream buckets nailed to wooden stands and a very trashy little 8 inch Kimala crash cymbal [see figure 1]. I had no pedals or kick drum so I simply tapped on the floor with my right foot for kick drum hits while I practiced. I also had to improvise for hi hat parts. [Just a note...this 'fake' kit was the one actually used on the 'Morbid Darkness' Demo 1991 , though with real hi-hats, and can also be heard on 'Years Of The Lost: Volume 1'] I remember mapping out songs something like this: Intro-open hat, verse-closed hat, chorus-ride, etc. I applied these principles either by lifting or setting down my left foot for respective hi hat parts and tapping the side of the mic stand which held up the crash as to represent the ride parts. The makeshift hi hat actually was a hat - an old straw sombrero placed on the top of another mic stand, for visual reference only.
While I prepared for my class field trip, I figured the more I listened to my guitar tracks, the less chance I had of fucking something up in the studio, so the only tape I brought with me for the lengthy bus trips and idle time between class activities was the 'guitar tracks' tape...nothing else. My Walkman was loaded with fresh batteries and I had ample back-up. By the time we were in Calgary, I was sick to death of listening to the material. The few friends I had confided in about the demo probably thought I was nuts when they found out I wasn't listening to 'Master Of Puppets' (which was the tape case I brought as my decoy) but in fact a dull and monotonous home recording of guitar parts. Looking back, I think I was nuts, but this was merely an indication of my drive and determination. Music and Metal was my desire, my reason for being, and as well as acting as my goal-setting obsession it also blocked out the negative aspects of the life around me: my family issues, my mom's disease, my dad's absence, my grandfather's dementia, my uncles deaths and afflictions...it was piled pretty high in every direction around me. The extent of these implications were still unseen, however, and years later it would all sink in, nearly sinking me.
Clayton and I, though imprisoned from one another, talked incessantly of the demo during this month, and despite our law breaking delinquency, I was sure everything would work itself out...in due time.
In early June my ongoing work with 'The Mourning After' material was becoming somewhat stagnant. I really wanted to just be able to work on the songs with Clayton present so that the real energy of our dynamic could be realized. I was strictly running on conjecture in assuming that these songs would even work out at all in a studio setting let alone as material we could perform successfully as a unit. Our phone conversations were becoming more frequent this month but an underlying sense of drastic things to come were being realized fairly early on. After a deep talk one afternoon, we both seemed to agree that MORBID DARKNESS may have to come to an end, much like HAVOK did only five months earlier, to make way for another new name and musical direction. It made total sense given the events which had transpired in April and May. This, of course, would leave 'The Mourning After' demo project in an indefinite limbo. This, too, made sense, seeing as a new band name and style would have to be developed before continuing with the recording...possibly rendering the present compositions unsuitable and requiring complete overhauls. We had decided to spend the next few weeks thinking about our new direction, and once we were allowed to hang out again the ball would begin to roll on the efforts of finding a new groove with which to set our course. In the meantime we were still separated and we didn't know for how much longer we'd be masterminding a project that was just waiting to happen. My urges to record something saw me creating new improv tapes a la 'Cry Of The Hangman' - 2 or 3 demos each containing 3 to 4 songs. The titles, which have since escaped me (though I know one was titled 'Thunderstorm') were compiled in chronological order onto a blank 90 minute tape which I simply titled 'DEMONIC' - as our new name had not yet come to be, and MORBID DARKNESS was clearly on its way to the grave.
By this time I had fashioned a hi hat on a mic stand with some steel rings which when placed on top of each other produced a slightly washy hi hat effect. It was necessary to do this as my sombrero made no sound at all. I had a lot of fun recording these tapes and it was a great escape for me. Somewhere during this month my mother become very depressed and her creeping disease was becoming more apparent even in the slightest of intervals. She was also having problems with her landlord regarding the activities of her boyfriend, Brad, who was staying at the house off and on. By June's end she would have to move out of the house she had been in since September 1989...which was when we officially started our little band. Now we were waiting to get together again so we could officially start our next little band, coinciding with my mother's relocation to a new place, which was looking like it was going to be a mobile home somewhere not too far from her current address...which would mean I could still walk there most every weekend just as I did now. Throughout the changes and turmoil which seemed to be omnipresent at this time, music was saving me; yes, how cliche, but it was so true. Music provided what seemed to be a deterrent from insanity (perhaps this is questionable...as future events may suggest), from more crime, from things I shudder to reflect on in any large degree...I can only imagine, and I'd rather not! However, I was still feeling the effects of all these hard realities and decided to make silence my defense. I wasn't one to talk much about my deeper feelings, anyway, except with Clayton and my mother and it was becoming harder to talk to her with her disease progressing and her attention span narrowing. My family spoke little of such matters anyway - politics was generally the topic at the dinner table and I generally stayed out of it. So music was my therapy, my outlet, my focus.
'The Mourning After' would now officially be put on hold as we brainstormed together and individually as to the direction we should take. Mid to late June was when it became certain that we'd be able to hang out again once my school year was finished at the end of the month. On July 1, I would be allowed to stay at Clayton's house for a few days. Fuck yeah!!! When I got the news from my father I abruptly called Clayton to inform him and we talked for hours about the 'new band'. For the next few days I racked my brain for ideas with regards to the new moniker. During a lazy evening of television gawking, I saw the word MORTUARY emblazoned on a plaque outside of a building in a scene from a sitcom I will aptly leave unnamed. I was immediately interested and thusly bombarded my dictionary for a more in depth glimpse of it's full potential. I suppose the initial allure came about because of the slight similarity to the moniker OBITUARY, which was one of my favorite Death Metal bands at the time. This would be my top choice of names for our next telephone conversation. Later that week, I called up Clayton exited about my name idea, though I tried to stifle my glee for at least 5 minutes into the conversation. Alas, the suspense got the better of me and I made my announcement. Clayton, too, had said he had a new name idea, but surely it could not surpass MORTUARY...the feeling in my gut only days before when researching the word was monumental. This gut feeling was transformed to a new gut feeling when upon my suggestion of the bands' new name to be MORTUARY, Clayton's reply was, of all things, "that's the name I was thinking about, too." Fuck me! How could this be? Despite all the speculation, it was clearly a sign to me that we were on some level synchronistic, and this implication was huge...especially after the happenings of the last couple of months. Needless to say, MORTUARY was the new band name and within a week we'd be hanging out again and laying a new pathway for our music with our new ideas. Already, my ambition had seen me rewrite lyrics for 'The Mourning After' songs and my initial goal was to finally practice and demo these songs together with Clayton once we got the ball rolling with our 'new' band.
In late June, my mother's mood seemed to be of slight despair. As well as having bouts of depression brought upon my her illness, she was having deeper and deeper relationship issues and this all presented extensive stress considering it was all affecting my sister, who lived with her full-time. I hate thinking about these things. I tend really to lean towards good memories when reflecting on these times but in writing these blogs I find it my responsibility to try and consider all of the relevant aspects so as to determine their effects on the general outcome of what the band was doing...cause and effect. All of these existential circumstances presented me with my own emotional situations and reactions: happy that the new band would soon be springing forth and content with my current musical drive and abilities, sad that my mom and sister were faced with such personal problems and that I wasn't older or responsible enough to help them on that level. The infamous shit sandwich.
Such is adolescence, I suppose, and we each share its angst in one form or another. Like most others, I simply trudged on and continued forward on my path of life...music giving me the drive to keep moving through all of life's sludgy bullshit, much like today.
On July 1st I arrived at Clayton's house; after a month and a half which seemed like a year and a half. We weren't overly or outwardly boisterous about reuniting but we were both really fucking glad that we were. I stayed for a couple of days, during which time we recorded 2 tapes under the new MORTUARY moniker. First was the 'Practice' tape; kind of a warm-up session for our more serious 'Mortuary' tape, which came on the second day. Both tapes contained the same songs with the exceptions of an instrumental intro on the 'Practice' tape performed by Clayton and a bad cover of SLAUGHTER's 'The Curse' on the 'Mortuary' tape. Much like in January 1990, after changing our name from HAVOK to MORBID DARKNESS, we re-recorded all of our first classics from 1989: Alone At The Sabbat, The Incubus, What Will Tomorrow Bring, Last Respects. I can't remember exactly why we did this. Oh, I remember...after the initial concept of 'The Mourning After' demo had diminished and had given way to some newer concept, the original material which was written had been scrapped for these revamped versions of 'Alone At The Sabbat', 'The Incubus', 'What Will Tomorrow Bring' and 'Last Respects'. This was the precursor to that development, and the reason why we recorded them was to try the revamped versions out, to test the waters. As I recall, it wasn't popular. Something was amiss. I do know that during May and June, when my main musical work was writing and preparing material for a studio demo and perhaps soon a studio album (secretly, I was sure that after recording the demo and awing everyone with our talent that a debut album would be immediate...confidence or delusion or a bit of both), I was working on touching up these songs to better fit our current style of playing, such as incorporating chords instead of single note riffs. Perhaps it was also symbolic of starting over again, as this seemed to have become our ritual in such a case.
The tapes were nothing special, and nothing really new. We did have something extraordinary on the 'Mortuary' tape that seemed to help in shifting our ideas and behavior for most of the summer. It was the outro song, simply titled 'Mortuary'. At some point during the tracking of this song something transpired which when played back afterwards gave us each a bit of a scare. The song was simply a 2 chord progression with the two of us chanting 'Mortuary'; sometimes in unison and sometimes not. I strummed the guitar and chanted in the background while Clayton, hands free, moved back and forth while using a paper towel tube to sing through during some of his chants. It was about 11:00 at night and while recording the previous songs we were each picking up on some weird vibes in the room, so we decided to turn out the light for this last song. I believe this was all relative to what we would hear during playback of the tape. The basic effect which freaked us out was that in some spots on that song it sounds as if 3 voices are chanting instead of 2. When I listen back now it kind of makes sense but at the time given the vibes which were present this was all more than a little fucking creepy...particularly since there were a few strange happenings in this house of late. Of course the type of fear which was created from this phenomena was not the terror kind but rather the kind that gave you a rush of adrenaline. We accepted it and in fact used this as inspiration for future tapes.
When not at Clayton's, or my mom's new house during July, I continued recording sequences for my DEMONIC tape at home. I needed something to do during my summer break, and usually music filled these slots. I recall being inspired by the many storms which were common this year, and on half a dozen occasions between May and July I had recorded huge thunderstorms on my tape recorder just outside my basement-bedroom window. At one point in mid-July, after listening to TROUBLE's 'The Skull' for the first time, a storm started up and I immediately set up and recorded a 3-song session, almost in reply to the energies of the storm. I suppose it is safe to say that I was not an ordinary 13 year old, much like it would be safe to say that currently I am not an ordinary 33 year old. I had little if no outside activities during such times. I lived in the country, away from the few school friends I had, and this was fine for me. Being a lone-wolf by nature, extended time spent on musical projects appealed to me just as much then as it does now.
We decided at one point to begin getting serious about the studio demo again, and I hurriedly threw together some new lyrics for a couple of the songs. I was elated because we were finally going to test the waters with these newer structured compositions together, which to me was much more professional and made this all feel a bit more serious and real. We got together later in the month to work on this material. I went over the basic structures of the songs with Clayton in my crash course manner, hoping he would get it all immediately. The first song, 'Premedicated Remedy', seemed to go fairly well after a few takes. The next song, 'The Boiling Cauldron', went okay, but at the time I was really affected by how well or bad things translated on tape. For me, who had been slaving over this material for months, there was a naivety that even brief references should have sufficed for impeccable and outstanding performances. I was obviously not being very realistic where such matters were concerned, and unfortunately failed attempts really affected me. We decided, or I decided to abort this project for a later time, and we then returned to form and filled the rest of the tape with our improv-poop...something which had become a recurring theme in this band. We simply needed more practice together. The next day, one hot motherfucker I might add, we decided in our boredom to record some more drivel, this time using Clayton's Wieder bench as a snare drum and we took turns between guitars and 'drums'. A few songs in and while getting really fucking silly with high pitched screams and shrieks we both kind of entered a mutual noise induced hypnosis and seemed to channel some chaotic and eerie energy for a few minutes. On the recording this trance was interrupted by Clayton's aunt Barb entering the room and informing us that the new neighbors (the 'frenchmen') were yelling outside; basically for us to shut the fuck up. I was relatively unfazed but Clayton seemed to have taken the whole event a bit more serious. After some strange but characteristic talk, he suddenly wanted to 'run the fuck out of there and not come back' for awhile. So off we ran...sweaty and smelly into the high afternoon heat to purchase some cigarettes and just wind down a bit. This would probably site the first instance, at least that I can remember, where Clayton's behavior actually seemed a bit weird. He was eccentric and hyperactive but his demeanor this day was sightly different...I took it for anger, and concluded that it was simply anger which had produced these irrational actions. I didn't get too hung up on this, however, and our weekends of hanging out and making noise were great for the simple fact that we were able to do it again.
I suppose the prospect of recording a studio demo at this time had drifted off and transformed into a 'wait until we are actually ready' type of mind set. Maybe next month...or the month after... It was quite evident that we weren't ready every time we tried to jam the songs. It certainly wasn't because the songs were hard to play. It was more about chemistry and mostly about habit. We were great at sitting down and belting out improv tapes...90% of the time it sounded like shit, but sometimes we had those moments of synchronicity which made it all worthwhile. We really didn't have to work for it, it just happened. With structured songs, that magic wasn't as prevalent and something felt awkwardly contrived about trying to make them work. What a shit sandwich! This was something which was quite a minor issue at the time, though, and we loved getting together and making these tapes. The novelty hadn't yet worn off and we swayed wild and free in the winds of inspiration. The last thing on our minds was what it really meant to be a band, in fact we didn't really even know what that was...this was our friendship and being a 'band' was less literal than it was figurative in the grand scheme of things back then.
Near the end of July I was informed that my sentence for minor theft in May was to be 20 hours of community service for a small crew of guys who worked for Armstrong Parks and Recreation in early August. It was around this time that Clayton had informed me that he had 'found' a book in some back alley in Vernon called THE NECRONOMICON. Of course, I don't remember his exact tale, but it was elaborate and seemed like bullshit. However, he described some things to me about the content of the book and I must say that I was instantly taken. The whole thing intrigued me and I listened intently as he read excerpts from the book. This book and the images it invoked would fuel our creative flames for some time after this, though it would actually be years before actually reading any of it myself. The summer would get hotter and our music and behavior would get crazier. Just wait.
August of 1990 basically served as a natural continuation of July. We continued our MORTUARY tapes, recording four that I can account for, though I'd guess it could have been six to eight easily; drivel that was tracked and trashed almost simultaneously. What can I say?, but that what was at one point going to be our 'getting back on track' and 'taking this band more serious' was for some reason turning into a real joke. These tapes we were spewing out with reckless abandon were essentially worthless in terms of artistic value and did not display an inkling of progression in our playing or songwriting. In fact, it would be quite fitting to say that these tapes were perhaps doing more harm than good for our dynamic as a unit. Okay all the scrutiny aside, we had a lot of fun recording these tapes. Our Schmier and Mille Petrozza impersonations (Destruction and Kreator, respectively, for those who don't know) on a few of these tapes was pure gut-busting hilarity and at times tears were brought to our eyes from the exertion of hysterical and uncontrollable laughter. I have no regrets and in retrospect it was probably just as well to cut loose and act like the kids that we were, for life around us both was marred with things that kids shouldn't be worrying about in the first place.
I did the crime, and early in the month I did the time...20 hours, or 3 days of very distasteful labor at the local fair grounds and livestock barns in the hot fucking August heat. I felt good when it was over and I vowed to myself, whilst picking up dirty napkins, candy wrappers and rust-brown maxi pads under the bleachers in the 4H barn on day 1, that I'd never be putting myself in this position ever again.
At some point during the month, Clayton's half-cousin showed up to live with his mother, who in turn was temporarily staying with Clayton and his mother in their house. Keith, or as we lovingly called him, 'Stomach Boy', was about my age and essentially much like us in that he was a bit different. You see, at this time in my area, Metal was taboo. I literally can only think of a handful of people who looked like us in our towns...long Metal hair, Metal shirts, leather and denim with back patches...so to a lesser degree, Keith was in this category. For some reason we viewed him as a poser and tried to get out of hanging with him whenever possible. Clayton and I were, to put it lightly, a little strange when it came to outsiders and any newcomers were subject to intense scrutiny. Looking back we probably should have hired him as our drummer or something, despite the fact that he couldn't really play anything. To hear any of the tapes we spawned this month, one would easily assume that we couldn't really play anything either. He sat in on a couple of our improv tapes, and though I'm sure he was impressed by our energy and bombastic demeanor, I highly doubt he was impressed by what he heard. Any indications of dissatisfaction from Keith were non-existent, and I'm glad because we would probably have made his life really fucking miserable. As it was, and in true form of the assholes that we were, we treated him like shit. This is the one thing I hate to think about regarding this time in our history, as our anti-social and zero-tolerance undertones really were uncalled for, especially when one was seemingly willing to stretch it out like Keith. We did him wrong and what's worse is that we did many others wrong in the years to come. Putting these things under the microscope now after all these years while writing these blogs, I am seeing some signs and precursory hints which point directly at many of the problems that developed between us and others in following years. It is strange to think that we regarded this behavior as normal and stranger to think that we weren't told otherwise by someone close to us. Of course, we were a tight unit, Clayton and I, and we didn't really run in other circles with anyone else. I had a few school friends, but never did anything much with them outside of school, and I'm pretty sure Clayton had the same thing going for him, though he was having some real troubles at school and maybe had even less friends than I at the time. I suppose these things served in our distrust of others and our inabilities to welcome others in.
We attempted to dabble with the Necronomicon a few times, though its workings are obviously up for debate. But like any form of suggestive sorcery, if you are mentally inclined to want results, often things will transpire which may indicate that perhaps some intervention was evident. I know now that our proceedings weren't even close to being ceremonially correct, if you want to get technical. In any case, I think that we were influencing ourselves and each other with our fear of the unknown and its adrenalizing effects. The book was the topic of more than a few conversations but more than that, its implications and the energy they created became the fodder for a lot of our lyrics, concepts and in some cases even became subsequent subject matter in both mine and Clayton's dreams. The book served us as a gateway to new concepts about good and evil and duality and really opened our imaginations beyond the basic God and Devil ideologies which we were so used to. Perhaps it even opened avenues of thought for the deities and energies which weren't absolutely positive or negative, but which fluctuated according to their environments or situations. These themes are anything but new, of course, I mean take God and the Devil...one in the same really, if you consider the situation, as they seemingly strive for the same thing...our souls.
Throughout the month I managed to fill a full 90 minute tape, 'Demonic II', in my sprawling boredom. At least with this side project I was creating something a bit more serious, though musically it was still in the improv realm. Later in the month I fell upon a revelation in a dream I had (which, incidentally, was abound with Necronomicon-esque overtones). The dream was riddled with figurative and symbolic activity but I remember distinctly that we were recording an album in some abstract and unreal studio, and it sounded fucking awesome. I remember little else in terms of what we were doing exactly, but when I awoke I realized that my inner thoughts had manifested themselves in the dream. I knew then and there that we were never going to get anywhere by recording our silly improv tapes for the rest of our lives and I immediately began writing riffs which would eventually become full songs. In late August I had nearly completed two songs, 'Reclused For Eternity' and 'Mountain Demons'. I wasn't sure exactly where this was going in the big scheme of things and at this point it didn't matter. I had tapped into something which was providing me with focus and ambition and I was determined to see it through until it was done. By month's end it had become a bit more clear. I had devised that in September we should record a demo which would act both as a nod to our first HAVOK tape a year earlier and as a guiding light to our current activities with MORTUARY and where it should go from here. This would prove to be a symbol of duality in a lot of ways for me personally: progression and regression. I wanted to progress in the sense that we would record new tapes but that ambition was rooted in the fact that I wanted to relive the accomplishments of the previous year. I don't really know what that was all about, but I am willing to bet that it had something to do with my perpetual and mildly depressive interpretations of life in general, something which hasn't plagued me so much as accompanied me in life for as long back as I can remember. I suppose the easiest answer is the best, though, and that would be that I wasn't really happy with what we were doing as a band. It sucked, to be honest. I felt it was time for structure and focus, something we probably displayed more in 1989 than now. I felt that we had a vision back then and it was leading to a result but then somewhere we lost our path and veered into improv hell. Returning to that path is what I wanted to achieve with a solid new tape, and eventually to record an album and become serious musicians. In many ways the gesture would see results, however, it look a bit longer than expected.
Early September was dedicated to writing more songs for our upcoming tape, 'Terror In The Midst', which in essence was to act as the catalyst with which to begin working harder to progress as a band. The tape no longer exists, unless Clayton still has a copy, so I have no direct references to work from, but I believe I wrote 5-6 songs for the tape both musically and lyrically and the other half was to be written lyrically by Clayton and to consist of music by myself on the fly. Most of my songs ran at about 6 to 7 minutes, by my estimates while practicing them at home, and we decided to roll with this mentality and produce a really long and epic tape. We had decided, also, that we'd record the tape in late September, much like the year previous with our first serious tape, 'Last Respects'.
After a couple of very new weeks in a new school, junior high specifically, I was inspired on many levels and it all seemed parallel to our changing attitudes about our band. It seemed as we matured in life, marginally I might add, so too did our outlooks towards the future of the band.
Late in the month, on a cool afternoon, I arrived at Clayton's house. We went over the songs a bit and discussed some specifics regarding our roles on the tape. I was originally going to sing my songs while playing my riffs and play rhythm guitar as well on the songs that Clayton would sing, leaving Clayton to do all guitar solos. We did a trial run with horrible results. We decided then to have Clayton on all vocal and solo duties and I would stick to rhythm and backing vocals. The next day, in the afternoon we began recording the tape. The result was less than great and aside from serving as a milestone in terms of putting a plan together and executing it, the tape was a bit of a disappointment. There was a feel which was lost in our responsibilities to play or sing our parts right and on top of it all worrying about how it would all turn out...something we'd struggled with before. We took a couple of ativan, or incubi as we called them (which Clayton stole from his mother from time to time...), and took all our gear down to the basement to Clayton's older brother's room. Patrick was out for the night and gave us permission to use his room to belt out a late night tape should we feel it necessary. Tonight, we did.
In just over an hour we had a new tape, and this one was miles above what we had done only hours earlier. But, it wasn't MORTUARY... In fact, we didn't know what the fuck it was. We did know we loved it and we had more fun doing it than we had for a long time on a lot of mediocre tapes. Basically, it was an extension of the absurd recordings we'd been doing all summer; more humor than seriousness. But those tapes were restrained because we wanted them to be serious. This was humor at its most unrestrained and though it was of distasteful and low brow subject matter, it was linear to both of our warped personalities. I believe I pulled the name 'Dead Sac Veins' out of my ass and it stuck, abbreviated often during phone calls to DSV. Though at the time we wouldn't have regarded this part of our main shtick with what would later become the MORBID DARKNESS entity, I certainly feel it was huge in our evolution and despite the fact that we never openly acknowledged DSV amongst the circles over the years (besides a few close friends), it was very much a part of us and our relationship as friends and band mates. It began our formal duality in having a serious band as well as a more laid back and comical side-project, much like METALLICA had or were involved with SPASTIC CHILDREN. It made perfect sense and we embraced it. I even recorded a Sac-Metal tape at home a week later titled 'Edifice' which was inspired totally by this new project. Clayton, too, recorded some punk-hardcore type stuff alone which seemed to be a direct result of DSV. It was contagion - but it was right. This was a productive way to be mischievous and we got a real laugh out of it...good times, man, good times.
At the very end of the month, most of my family left for a road trip to Minnesota, which would leave me at the house alone for the entire month of October, with the exceptions of my after-school dinners at my father's house and the many visits at home from my mom. I was hanging solo for a while, which gave me lots of time for music which I took good advantage of.
October of 1990 came and as was arranged my family loaded up the motor home and got the fuck out of dodge for what would be the entire month. I was alone at the house, which sat on 10 acres and was a couple miles out of town. The first thing I remember doing after watching them leave was blasting NUCLEAR ASSAULT's 'Survive' on the stereo and sat out on the deck and smoked my face off. With regards to the band, this would be a quiet month as there wouldn't be any visits. I got a lot of visits from my mom, who would walk down from her house, often at strange hours. I always enjoyed her company, though I was still young enough to take these things for granted. As it was I appreciated her visits and because she held such an interest in my musical obsessions I would babble endlessly about them. I recall one such visit when I heard a terrible noise outside the house late one night. Mom's walking was becoming sketchy, showing further symptoms of her disease, and at times her ascent up the steps to the deck was labored. This night it sounded like someone was pushing a shopping cart up the stairs...then I heard my name being shouted in that inimitable way. I ran to the sliding glass doors to see mom carrying a fucking hi hat stand...with the cymbals on it! I quickly took them off her hands, just as tickled as a kid who just got a bike for Christmas. I had become taken with the notion of having a real drum kit since I got into high school and had spent some time gawking at the band room kit. This kit was bottom line, at best, though the cymbals were Sabian and I distinctly remember the sound of the high hats; crisp and bright...probably 13 inchers. I could continue banging on stools and empty buckets for a while yet, but my cymbal situation had become dire. My 'hi hat' contraption was made of delicate steel rings with very weak welds which by this time had fallen apart. I couldn't devise such a contraption with what I could find lying around, so I asked mom if she could go check out the prices the next time she was in Vernon...I had no idea she'd be bringing a set home!
I let off some steam the next day while recording drum parts for some rough guitar demos I had done while writing material earlier in the year for 'The Mourning After' demo. The hats worked great, though they were pretty cheap and did not have a very crisp tone...more of a boxy rasp...but they were doing the job and it felt a bit more like I was actually playing drums with the addition of the real hats.
School was followed by a walk across town to my father's house, where I sometimes waited hours for him and my future step-mom to return from work. Sometimes not. And those were the good visits because if they got home on time it usually meant they weren't drunk. Perhaps, looking back, my memory is skewed and exaggerated. Those topics are bleak ones for me, because their drinking was a disease. They didn't control it, it controlled them, and eventually this illness played a large part in my father's suicide years later. I must note that despite these drawbacks in our relationship, we did share many great years and my will here is by no means to demonize anyone but rather to bring these facts to light for the greater theme: how these things in my personal life affected me and how I expressed myself and dealt with them through music. After dinner and a visit I was escorted home where I spent nights and weekends...often smoking too much and blasting Metal on the stereo.
Clayton and I talked quite often, discussing music and future ideas and I often played him my recordings or shared lyrics with him, which I may add he would often one-up me when reading his own. One phone call in particular which came later in the month was unusually abrupt. Clayton had experienced difficulty breathing while walking home with groceries. As it turned out, one of his lungs had collapsed! The remainder of this situation is a bit blurry but I believe he ended up pulling through fairly well at first but later had more complications. The bottom line was that he would eventually have to be operated on. This sucked, like really sucked, man. He was 16 or so by this time and far too young to be faced with such mortal issues. For the time being, he seemed to fair well and his spirit was high...a huge relief for myself, who was worrying deeply when I first got the news.
Late in the month, after working on the older recordings as well as beginning a third 'Demonic' tape, I took to the pen once again and began to write some concrete material. For what specific purpose other than to express myself and pass time I wasn't entirely sure, but I always had a vision in my mind of entering a studio some day to record a demo or an album and perhaps this was simply acting on that vision. I managed to write some very cool riffs and songs - 'Gates Of Pain', 'The Pale Horseman', among others - and actually began work on a 30 minute song which I hadn't yet named but which I was enthusiastic about and planned to finish in the coming weeks.
The early part of November was somewhat of a roller coaster. I had written a few new promising songs early on, a continuation of my activities later in October. However, though it now seems quite a trivial matter, I had dumped my guitar during a rough recording session and the tuning key for the high E snapped right the fuck off. I didn't restring the axe very often, in fact only when a string broke did it ever even cross my mind. The whole of it was that the guitar seemed injured; sick and in need of treatment. It took a few weeks, but eventually my father showed up with a whole new set as well as a guitar stand (as a hint and a precaution). So began the slow decline of my beloved/hated Fame Hondo strat copy. Soon after that incident, extreme fret buzzing plagued me to the point of almost being unable to bear playing the goddamn thing. The nut had worn down beyond repair so I fashioned a replacement with a piece of black plastic I whittled away from a Goody comb. Looking back, I am surprised it worked.
Clayton and I finally got together mid-month. His health seemed good despite the recent complications. We recorded a dismal piece of improv for MORTUARY titled 'Rot In Hell'. I don't have it anymore and care much less, except that it contained some riffs from the songs which I had been writing...'Gates Of Pain', 'The Golden Dawn', to name a couple that I remember. There wasn't much magic, if any. This was becoming a common outcome of our work together and was developing into a complex. DSV was the fall back. Over the next 2 days we recorded 3 different sessions which would become known as 'B.U.M.', DSV's second tape, on side A of a 90 minute TDK blank. DSV had almost become our bread and butter. Though we never wanted to take it to the next level like we did with our serious projects, I now firmly believe we could have and probably succeeded...and we undoubtedly would have had more fun doing it.
I had recorded little in my own time due to my guitar problems but I was no less inspired than ever before. I had got a lot of great music this month and it fueled me more than ever. I did continue to track some drums over older recordings, even some of our HAVOK demos, just to try and add a bit of life to them. However, I was quick to delete these sessions as, firstly, they weren't really worth keeping, and secondly, because it felt a bit weird to me to embark on such things without Clayton knowing or being involved. A strange bit of premonitory perception, I'd say.
During phone conversations with Clayton I expressed my disdain towards our failing project of MORTUARY and he seemed quite mutually uninspired with our efforts as well. I had asked my mother if she would purchase a new guitar for me as a Christmas present, one I had spotted in a local music shop which was fairly cheap but looked more Metal than my strat-shat. She seemed receptive and assured me it could be done (I was spoiled, btw). This, I felt, would serve as a symbolic renewal for the band and would coincide with an idea I had suggested to Clayton during one of our phone calls. I had been looking through some old band shit I had kicking around and came across a handmade cassette j-card (one of many I fashioned during 1988-1989, before we even began making recordings) which was simply a caricature of Clayton and myself with a logo above us...MUTILATION. I had used many monikers on these covers: Wexklox, Mutilation, Reek Havok, Havok...among others. Somehow this simple name hit a nerve, invoking visions and concepts which were a shift from current ones, and I decided to propose the idea to Clayton.
He seemed to like the idea, though perhaps hesitantly, and I suggested that we hold off until after Xmas to change over, as it would coincide with the introduction of my new guitar. Part of the new concept was that we would each be equally involved in pitching in material for the songs, so for me the guitar would act as some kind of catalyst to get this whole thing in motion. The ideas were very inspiring for us both though a stipulation suggested by Clayton was that we record one last tape as MORTUARY. Last was the operative word, a welcome end to an era which was less than inspiring, albeit one which had to occur in order for our evolution to play out as it was.
Our final session was put on hold due to an interesting development. Due to our mischief in May, we were each given the right to plead either guilty or not guilty to our crimes, as pointed out by our respective legal representatives. I pleaded guilty without hesitation...Clayton, not guilty. I had no idea what it would mean down the road and in fact once my sentence was fulfilled (20 hours community service) the whole matter was quick to exit my mind... Until one day in late October, as I prepared myself some dinner, and was served with a subpoena to testify at Clayton's court case. I had buried that shit along with all the empty potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers back in August. Now I had to exhume the motherfucker. On top of it all, and surely the most important part of the development, I got a call from Clayton a few days before the court date. He said he was pretending to be mad at me and that we supposedly weren't friends anymore and that during the case we'd be best to stay away from each other...no doubt as suggested by his shit-faced lawyer. 'Okay', I said. I went along with it, but in coming years I would realize this to be the turning point for us...when honesty began to wither, eventually rotting beyond repair. He had received his sentence, which was not much worse than mine, though had he just pleaded guilty in the first place this tarnishing of trust could have been postponed, if not avoided. Any ember of resentment which may have formed in light of that whole situation was quickly extinguished once Clayton called me later that day assuring me it was all okay and we could hang that coming weekend.
Late in November we recorded the last MORTUARY tape, titled 'The Final Attack'. It showed an improvement of spirit from 'Rot In Hell', perhaps due to the fact that we were soon going to bury this rotting corpse, and in turn could manage one more round of smelling it. For whatever reason we did not record any DSV during this visit, in respect to the occasion, perhaps, but perhaps also in an intuitive premonition of coming angst. At the end of the month Clayton suffered more lung complications, this time putting him in the hospital for a few days were he underwent some minor surgery. He was soon back in good spirits and we would go through with our plans, though some unexpected side-trips would be taken along the way....
A couple weeks after Clayton's recovery and countless phone calls building up to our next meeting, we convened in early December to record...a new DSV tape. This had become our priority but there was still a space for more serious material to consider. Our solution, being unprepared as of yet to make our transition to MUTILATION, was to record a random tape using the one-off moniker of EREBUS. This tape was recorded first at a late hour on the day of my arrival and ran about 50 minutes long (the A side of a Denon 100 minute blank). It was somber and doomy, not unlike the previous years parallel, HAVOK's 'Stroke Of Mercy', and similarly it sounded quite good to us as we played it back later that night. This was promising for our future ideas and assured us that we still had 'it' when it came to our serious side...a far cry from most of the MORTUARY efforts. A thirst was quenched, so to speak.
The DSV tape was recorded next, titled 'B.U.S.H.'. It was an instant classic, which opened with a parody of CARNIVORE's intro 'Pizza and Jack Daniels'; myself spoofing a drawn out vomit session, with tracks from DSV's 'B.U.M.' playing in the background, which I recorded in late November. It was a slab of perverted, politically incorrect Sac Metal that seemed to spew forth without a hitch. Clayton was belching out some very long and intense screams while my Sac riffs were oozing out like the pus from a ripe and over sized boil. It all seemed too good to be true. It was a slab of fun which we both really deserved and because we enjoyed ourselves so much in the process it really shines through when playing it back...tons and tons of enthusiasm.
As Xmas grew nearer, which would coincide with the tentative launch of MUTILATION, we became increasingly inspired and having an almost perfect winter unfold before us, speaking to us on our deeper subconscious levels - our themes and musical visions thrived on such things as our environments - we figured our drabbest era of MORTUARY was finally buried forever. DSV had filled some voids we had and quelled our stagnant phases of expression and enthusiasm. Shorty before Xmas, Clayton arrived at my place for an afternoon visit and we decided to record a DSV tape there. Titled 'F.A.B.U.T.A', it was an interesting venture which also featured drums, thanks to my 'fake kit'.
With Xmas arriving it was quite apparent that MUTILATION was not going to be launched as scheduled. I had not received my new guitar, which somehow became the symbolic key to the new projects success (mostly by my own superstitions, I'll add). I was a bit discouraged. But we decided it was out of our hands fairly early on. Perhaps we could record more one-offs until we were finally prepared to launch MUTILATION properly.
And so we did. I stayed about 4 days at Clayton's over the holidays and during this time we bashed out 2 new tapes: JUDGEMENT OF THE SOUL, a 60 minute tape recorded in 2 sessions, and, TEMPORARY INSANITY, which was recorded on the B side of the EREBUS blank. No band names, just titles. This was our solution to being without a moniker and it too allowed us more license to experiment, being unbound by a predetermined mind set. These tapes were good, though honestly they lacked the greatness which was evident on the EREBUS tape, probably as a result of our postponed launch. Nonetheless, we would continue to look to our delayed future project with unwavering anticipation.
I had written some new material throughout the month and decided to give a nod to December 1989 by recording a new 30 minute song, this time with drums and improved playing. I called it 'The Frozen Spectre', based after themes which I worked out on my many walks to and from my mother's house, sometimes traversing through crotch high snow.
A lot of new music was being introduced during this time. We got our first glimpses of some British Grindcore with NAPALM DEATH and PROPHECY OF DOOM, as well as other flavors of Death Metal in bands such as CANCER, BOLT THROWER and WINTER. We were really just pulling it all in and with each new blast of inspiration we felt more compelled to move forward with the launch of MUTILATION. But MUTILATION was becoming much more in meaning than just a new band name. MUTILATION was becoming the figurative indicator of us stepping beyond the comfort of our homes and into the obscure and unknown Heavy Metal Underground. We had numerous conversations about it all and with new and accessible bands emerging such as CANNIBAL CORPSE and DEICIDE the prospect of becoming a real band was becoming more and more realistic. It was only a matter of time but we were both nervous about such a transition and in our own personal ways. For the meantime we felt it exceedingly necessary to have a solid plan and an even more solid style. There was much growth yet for us. The coming new year was the year which we both had little doubt we'd be breaking out in one way or another.
January, for all intents and purposes, was somewhat bleak. The winter was proving harsh this month. The snowfall came severely and then the temperature dropped as cold as fuck. But on a positive note, these conditions made great inspiration for me when writing music during the winter months. I had developed a new style which incorporated more minor feeling chords and tonal progressions. These techniques produced a doomy and eerie sound, though it was easy to veer off that tonal path by playing a 'sour' note or chord and in turn change the mood to a more light-hearted one (this being the by-product of playing only minor diads in any given key - I used almost exclusively a minor diad in the place of a standard power chord...this, of course, was before I had learned about the standard power chord...I'll get to that later in the year...). This slight 'wrench in the works' produced a mingling of Metal genre styles. On one hand, with eerie and doomy chords, I was achieving some riffs which were reminiscent of some DEICIDE or OBITUARY riffs. On the other hand, progressions marred with sour notes or chords captured a vibe somewhat reminiscent to Grindcore or Hardcore stuff, which incorporated Punk undertones, giving a less threatening and depressive result. While I wrote, I had no real idea what would be coming for us in terms of overall style, except that it would be Death Metal in nature, so I just wrote and my stuff would take on hints of this genre and that, depending on what was moving me at the time. The result was a varied blend of flavors matched with my very characteristic playing style. Some elements were beginning to become more clear to me in what style I really wanted to develop and I expanded on these writing sessions for much of the winter. It was during these sessions that I wrote the riffs which would become the foundations for the MORBID DARKNESS sound, which would be heard later in the year on our first released Demo. Of course, we still aspired to launch MUTILATION, and it was with this act that we hoped to break out and become a known band. In fact, the launch of MUTILATION was becoming more and more exciting. However, it all seemed to feel so distant in the future at this point. I now regard this as artistic intuition; knowing when your vision and your product are on the same plain. At this point, they were not, but the vision was becoming clearer and the product was getting ever closer to being right.
We did not get together this month, for whatever reason, so I had ample time for other activities. These activities, as usual, did not stray far from the main focus in my life...music. In mid 1990, I began to catalog our recorded works, hand drawing goofy covers and typing out tracks and credits on plain paper J cards which in turn accompanied whatever copy I had of said 'demos'. Since then, our output had expanded quite rapidly, so I took this time in December and January to update the catalog. I redid most of the existing covers and created covers for all the new tapes and incorporated new cover artwork with various clippings of art I could find in various different mediums: magazines, textbooks, library books, etc. After producing a master cover proof, I would have my grandmother make black and white photocopies for me when she ran errands in town.
Whilst in complete limbo from personal musical activities and finding myself able to just sit and listen to music with undivided attention (the times I should have been spend doing my homework, I might add), I began to pinpoint specific elements from numerous albums which ultimately were those I'd hope to expand upon in my own music. I felt a constant urge to draw closer to the more minor sounding riffs I was creating; the drearier and more negative sounding ones. I wanted to incorporate this into our new style and ultimately into the songs which I was preparing for the MUTILATION launch. They took time to develop, and during improv recordings in the coming months I was often apt to balance these despairing riffs with more lighthearted sounding riffs. I realize now that all the music I've ever written in my life, in some way, expresses what's going on inside my being and what is going on outside my being as well. I see now that I wasn't the most positive person during these months, and one might mistake it for depression, but I believe it was simply sadness: for the people in my life who were dealing with heavy situations, for the uncertain future, for blatant teenage angst and all the weirdness surrounding that. I felt angst in many ways whilst trying to decide what was next with this band, feeling at the mercy of the resources available to me and being able only to be resourceful to myself in such medial and seemingly unimportant matters as finding new ice cream bucket lids to replace broken ones on my 'fake' kit. I had no money, I couldn't buy anything, I could not be the adult I wanted to be...like most teenagers, I suspect. So in turn, perhaps blazing full throttle with my doom and gloom riffs felt slightly uncomfortable to me at first, seeming a bit vulnerable at expressing my true feelings, so I countered the 'truth' with the lighthearted riffage, or the 'facade'. I make it seem so dire. The reality was that most of the time while recording our improv tapes, we were both having a lot of fun, so perhaps this is could be another analysis. Perhaps the fact that the 'truth' hurt instilled more of a need to play more feelgood riffs while recording. Looking back with as objective a view as I can possibly achieve, I would safely say that it was both...it only depended on the situation at hand to determine which applied.
We scheduled a visit to occur in early February and our talks had centered around our new improv tape, for which I had many new riffs to test out. Patiently, we awaited our meeting.
To continue click MORBID DARKNESS: Recapitulation (Part 2)