Interview: Vitriol on Identity, Originality and Bearing the Torch for Extreme Metal

Vitriol – courtesy of Charlotte Gane
I’m seeing more and more coverage for Oregon’s Vitriol and honestly I couldn’t be happier. My first exposure to this barbarically brutish death / extreme metal band was through their “Victim” video — within the first minute I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was savage in its sound, relentless in its pace and ultra-technical in its construction but the standout was in how much of the death metal I came to know and love long ago was contained in these few minutes: gritty, violent and absolutely true to the genre. Pain Will Define Their Death sees its release next week and within the three songs contained, the exact same can be said for all. We’ve featured them in a recent Profile and in our Monday morning playlists, today we are proud to feature them in a band and album focused interview that is extremely enlightening on things such as, but not limited to, band identity, originality and bearing the torch for death and extreme metal. Carve out some time to see what they had to say…

Vitriol - Pain Will Define Their Death

In the Profile you did for us you mentioned Pain Will Define Their Death is where the band “found its sound” – ‘suffocating and remorseless while remaining listenable.’ At what point during the writing process did you come to this realization or did you have a feeling going in?

Kyle Rasmussen: That goal has always been the creative endgame for me. I did a lot of reflecting before diving into writing material for Vitriol in the early 2010s. I tried to pinpoint an X factor that was shared by the bands that had made the greatest impact on me as a listener. I discovered that while extreme, these bands wrote songs that were somewhat conventional in their structures. This is what allowed their music to be infectious and anthemic. That’s what I wanted to achieve. So much of extreme music is anecdotal now. We spin a record once, give it a nod, and it hits the shelf never to be listened to again. I want to write music that has replay value. I want to write songs. So the ultimate question was, how can I write relentlessly brutal music that is memorable without sacrificing impact? Achieving that goal was a gradual process. Every song seemed to inch closer and closer. The songs on this EP I believe truly hit that mark. They punish you, but in a way that doesn’t result in a listen that feels like a chore. It’s satisfying in how they steamroll you.

I’ve always been intrigued at how differently artists approach writing and the thought process behind new material. What was this process like for Pain Will Define Their Death?

KR: It all starts with the riff. I am first and foremost a guitar player. I don’t have a process in the conventional sense. It’s all a matter of picking up the guitar and fucking around until I trip onto something that moves me. Some songs I go into with a loose idea. Victim, for instance, I knew I wanted to write a bruiser. A song with a consistent tempo that just doesn’t let up. Haymaker after haymaker. But how I achieve that is always a mystery until the parts are fleshed out. Some songs flow organically from part to part, others I tediously stitch riffs together and rearrange several times. One of the songs that will be on the full length, the followup to the EP, took roughly 7 months until it was complete. A couple others I wrote in two days. The more complicated riffs I always tweak and add to repeatedly until there’s something distinctly unique about them. Those little nuances is where the magic happens. Those almost indiscernible moments that make your ears perk up and force you to rewind the riff.

Lyrics are always written separately without a specific song or rhythmic patterns in mind. After a song is written I go over completed lyrics I have written and choose a piece that best fits the vibe of the song. That process has worked well so far. Drums and bass are written after the riffs are complete. I don’t write to programmed drums, I just track to a metronome and send those to our drummer. Often I’ll have specific ideas I communicate to him, but most of the time he just shreds over that shit and rarely disappoints. Dude’s an animal. Learning to program drums would be a waste of my time because I’d never rival him creatively in that way, and planting a seed of a worse idea would more than likely be detrimental to the whole process.

A couple of things that really stand out here is the realism and originality in your sound. Sure, there’s a couple of bands that cross the mind as reference points only but the song construction, the intensity and precision immediately apparent is a breath of fresh air in death and extreme metal. How important is it to you that the listener takes this away from their experience?

KR: It is the heart of Vitriol. It’s our mission statement. The reality of it all. I spoke at length in the profile piece about how I feel that extreme music has devolved into a novelty in the public eye. And that’s the greatest tragedy, because I feel that the canon of extreme metal is equipped with a unique and important voice. The philosophical root of Vitriol’s sound and what we have to say is very concrete. We don’t talk about fantastic fictional ideas. The most potent and crippling horror available to us is how repulsive we are as a species. On its face this doesn’t sound like a new idea. Humans being shitty is as much of a trope as anything else. But it’s something else to appreciate this idea in a very real, existential way. How deeply we fail ourselves and each other in everything we do. That the love you feel for those around you and the love they reciprocate is measured only by the utilities you offer to one another. That we are at our core selfish, weak, and parasitic. Nobility will always elude us because it doesn’t exist, it’s a myth. We are not capable of anything more, even the “good” ones. And anything that suggests otherwise is a romance that has only lasted as long as it has by the virtue of self interest and the desire to be numb to this truth. Once you peel off the learned concept of human value that you’ve achieved through socialization you really begin to believe that the only honorable choice is to end your life or the lives of others. To be clear, I’m speaking philosophically. This isn’t me saying something extreme for the sake of it. I’m still a human, and in my human world I believe in social liberties and concerns. I’m at no risk of committing homicide. There’s as much value in killing another person or a small amount of people as there is in cutting off only a small portion of a cancerous limb. Your body will remain terminally sick, you’ve only now served to disfigure it. The point I’m trying to make is that this is real to me, and extreme metal has the best voice to speak it.

The overall sound of this EP is crisp and clear which enhances its visceral feeling. What was the recording process like and how was it working with Audiosiege? In addition, did anything in the mixing and mastering process alter your original vision of what you were after originally?

KR: The actual tracking is always smooth because I pre record all of the strings (bass, guitars, solos) at home and reamp them in the studio. This is great because if you suffer from devastating neuroticism and OCD like I do you can spend as much time as you’d like on tiny details without spending a fortune on studio time. Actually recording the parts in the studio takes only as long as the duration of the song. Derek Leisy at Audiosiege is a local homie and our old bands played many shows together in our teens, so working with him is always easy and a good time.

The real experiment came when it was time to approach mixing and mastering. I have this tough dilemma to face every time I approach a project with Vitriol, which is that I make metal music but am not fond of modern metal media or production style. Especially when the songs are in any way technically involved. In those cases you usually hear production that castrates any potential ferocity in favor of crisp, clinical, shrink-wrapped clarity. These songs are first and foremost aggressive, so I knew my goal was to achieve an explosive and grittier end result. Brad Boatright heard the material while we were tracking at the studio and was excited to get his hands on the mastering. I shared with him my goals for the finished product and he referred me to Taylor Young (Nails, Twitching Tongues) for mixing. This sounded perfect to me. Who better to understand sonic intensity than a guy who was on a Nails record? I sent him the rough mixes and he was jazzed. Taylor really killed it. After a few passes he nailed what I was looking for and his role was integral to us finding our overall sound on this EP. Brad made a pass on the master and I was really happy with it. The big surprise came when I shared it with a few trusted friends and peers and the same critique came back almost unanimously; you couldn’t hear what the fuck was going on. That’s when I realized that while we are hostile, I need to appreciate that the riffs are more involved and intricate than the usual HM-2 fueled violence that the production style typically lends itself to. That’s when I sent it over to Stephan Hawkes at Interlace, who I’ve worked with extensively in the past, for review and he was very confident he could do what we needed in mastering. At the end of the day we ended up with a brutal and dirtier mix with a more modern and glassy master to help the details pop. And I’m very happy how it all came together.

How did you guys get started as a band and what or who are some of the biggest influences, personally and collectively, that inspired Vitriol and the contents of Pain Will Define Their Death?

KR: Myself and Adam (bass, co vocalist) were part of a band that dissolved in 2011. I spoke a little earlier about my goals for the band’s sound early in Vitriol’s career. I knew I wanted to create something that was heavier, more sincere and severe. Touring with our old band really showed me how detached everyone was from extreme music as a worldview. It was just a bunch of dudes in bands having a good time. And I’m in no way condemning that, or attempting to lessen what they’re doing, I just knew it was more for me. Adam believed in what I wanted to do and stuck by me. Something I’m very grateful for.

In regards to influences, that’s a tough one to distill into one answer and do it justice. Many artists inspired me in different aspects of what I do. Sonically Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel, and Nile have always been primary influences. If I had to pinpoint the single most impactful influence on our sound it would be Erik Rutan’s riffing. I believe Conquering the Throne to be the greatest death metal record ever written. I marvel to this day at the level of aggression and truth that’s on that record. Listen to Dethroned and tell me you don’t feel absolutely crushed. His influence on me is followed closely by Trey. They both have such a character defining disregard for conventional phrasing and champion the art of the riff. But a lot of the American and Brazilian stuff at that time influences me greatly. Diabolic is still on constant rotation. I love all of their records. Early Krisiun as well.

A big influence for me in when it comes to how one should approach their music and art was Nergal of Behemoth. When Demigod came out nothing else at that time felt as fresh and inspired. It has so much direction and purpose. We don’t adopt very much sonically from the band, but it was his philosophy and tenacity to his music and his career that was most inspiring. He represented a level of seriousness that I felt in myself that wasn’t celebrated among younger American musicians. He saw going on stage every night as being tantamount to going to war. That band never pandered, never waned in intensity, and still managed to climb their way to where they are now. They are objectively the most intense band to have reached their level of success.

At the time of Vitriol’s inception I was also listening to a lot of black metal. This is right when the more esoteric French black metal was making a splash over here (Deathspell, Blut Aus Nord, Glorior Belli.) I was also listening to a lot of Funeral Mist and mid era Marduk. This opened up new avenues for me and inspired me to explore more swirling and open means of creating discomfort. One of the best modern death metal records came out right at that same time as well, Hour of Penance’s “Paradogma.” I’m not a big fan of their records that have followed, but that album is a modern classic and played a big role in Vitriol’s direction. I could really go on for hours, so I’ll spare you. I’m always checking new shit out. I’m still hungry for new and fresh heavy music. My list of influences are ever shifting, outside of the core ones.

Have you had a chance to play these songs live yet? If so how has the response been? Any plans for an extended tour?

KR: We just played our fourth show with this new material on the 11th of October. The response has been overwhelming so far. There isn’t much more I could ask for. People are responding to the intensity as much live as they are after seeing the video for Victim. I really think people have forgotten how satisfying violently energetic death metal can be.

We aspire to be a full time touring band. We are hoping to ride whatever momentum we achieve from the release of this EP into opening a relationship with a booking agent. That’s the next step. Hitting the road aggressively. This is everything I do, and I’d like to spend every moment building it. It’s just a matter of someone believing in what we’re doing enough to toss us on a decent tour. That can be a lot to ask as a DIY band where your value in this industry is not determined by the music you make or the quality of your live show, but by Facebook followers and YouTube views. Time will tell.

Kyle was recently invited on to the Daemoness Guitars team with some extremely kind words from owner Dylan regarding Kyle’s work and Vitriol. How did this come about and what can we expect from the Kyle signature guitar?

KR: Without risk of exaggeration I can say that Dylan approaching me was the most satisfying and validating moment of my career in extreme music. For those who are unfamiliar with Dylan and Daemoness, he represents the pinnacle of craftsmanship and artistry in regards to heavy metal guitars. This guy isn’t just a luthier, he’s an artist and a philosopher. He is a real soldier and heavy metal is his truth as much as it is mine. When you are so deeply consumed by something that most people are either completely unaware of or find trivial, it is a sincere rarity to meet someone that shares your level of passion. How it came together is even more surreal. I have an Instagram account where I share all music related interests, but most of the content is guitar related posts. I’m a guitar fetishist. I shared a lot of Dylan’s work and that drew him to my page. We ended up chatting as likeminded metal fans. Through following my page he ended up seeing some videos of my riffing and was really taken by it. He insisted that we link up on Skype and that’s when he told me how he felt about my playing and offered to build me a guitar. This is when I was just some turd on Instagram. This EP wasn’t out, nor the video, we didn’t even have a full time drummer at the time. It’s just such a testament to how dedicated Dylan is to the shit he believes in. I’m currently the only unsigned artist on the Daemoness endorsement team and it’s a true honor.

As far as what you can expect from the signature model, we have some exciting ideas brewing. Definitely more of an X shaped body a la the Jackson Warrior (my personal favorite shape and current live guitars,) B.C. Rich Stealth, and Ibanez Xiphos. Six strings, 27 frets. Complete madness. It will sew the seeds of man’s destruction. This guitar will end worlds, there’s no doubt.

The EP just landed so obviously it’s early but, what’s the plan for you guys moving forward? Have you already begun work on a full length?

KR: At the risk of providing too much information 8 out of 10 songs that will appear on our full length are already tracked on guitar. This EP is intended to serve as a glorified demo in the sense that we wanted to release something to create some buzz before we drop a full length out of no where. We wanted to be locked and loaded and we hope to release a full length in 2018. Whether that be early, mid, or late 2018 depends on what opportunities we achieve in the wake of the EP. Ideally I’d like to get in a couple of tours to really carve out a place in the eye of the metal community for optimal impact when the LP is released.

Is there an end goal for Vitriol? That’s a loaded question but I think it’s safe to say the immediate plans are to continue playing the kind of death and extreme metal that you feel should be representative of those terms, would you agree?

KR: I couldn’t have put it more concisely myself. That’s exactly what we intend to do. Build a career on the universal truth of death. I believe that’s a truth we’re all sensitive to to varying degrees. And one we fear we deserve. We’ve spent our entire existence trying to cope with our shortcomings. In one of our earliest attempts we projected and externalized them into the concept of original sin. We then invented a spiritual salvation from everything we loathe within ourselves through the virtues and mercy of God. I’m not here to dispute original sin and the truth of what that story represents. It’s very real. But it’s a truth from which there is no salvation. That is my truth. And that will be evident in everything that Vitriol does.

Thank you for your time in answering these questions. Anything you’d like to add or mention?

KR: I think we covered a lot of ground and I’ll be impressed by those who made it this far. I’d just like to say how appreciative I am for the coverage and your interest in what we’re doing. It means a lot, especially at this pivotal time of development. To the reader, if you dig what we do you can show your appreciation by sharing our music. It is more valuable than any financial support at this time. If you believe in the brand of death metal we hope to create and breed, be on the front lines. Show your friends what death metal can be.

Many thanks to Vitriol for their time!

Pain Will Define Their Death will be available November 10 on Bandcamp. For more information on Vitriol visit their Facebook page.

7 thoughts on “Interview: Vitriol on Identity, Originality and Bearing the Torch for Extreme Metal

  1. Joel Jimenez December 11, 2018 / 10:11 pm

    The answer Kyle gave to the second question made my brain feel something I can’t explain

    • Joel Jimenez December 11, 2018 / 10:12 pm

      My bad it was the third.

  2. Joel Jimenez December 11, 2018 / 10:11 pm

    I love this band

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