Published Jun 27, 2012The main reason Dying Fetus have maintained their status as part of death metal's elite is consistency; they know what they do well and they stick to it. The legendary Maryland band don't stray too far from their traditional sound on their seventh album, Reign Supreme, but that doesn't mean that they're simply regurgitating old material. The aptly titled record has that distinct Fetus sound at its core, but it also features some new twists that make it fresh and current. While Reign Supreme is a natural progression from the trio's Descend Into Depravity, it's also more groove-oriented and features excellent production, which gets better with each consecutive release. With bands that don't vary their style a great deal from album to album, it's all about the quality of the material, and Dying Fetus offer nothing but the highest quality on Reign Supreme.
The new songs sounded great live at this year's Maryland Deathfest. During the writing process, do you take into account how the songs will sound in a live setting?
Guitarist/vocalist John Gallagher: Yeah, we actually do have that in mind. When a song has a good flow, good continuity, something that gets a pit moving, that's one thing we try to do. We try to entice the crowd with the music, so to speak. And, yeah, the new songs seem to have had a pretty good impact so far, so that's pretty cool.
Was there a specific musical direction you wanted to go in for the new record, Reign Supreme?
We just wanted it to be a broad album, with a lot of different styles, without going too far away from what Dying Fetus do. There are a couple songs that have something a little bit different. There's one song we have that's pretty much a hardcore song ― there's no blast and that's kind of unusual for us at this point. Sometimes it's like every song has to have blast, but it puts the song in the trenches and that's not always good. I'm inspired by hardcore and stuff like that, so, in my eyes, the hardcore song on the record is like a combination of Cannibal [Corpse] meets Terror. Some of the songs have some dark, melodic passages and some melodic soloing; it's not just shred all the way through it. It's a little something extra for the fans. Hopefully, everyone likes that stuff.
Reign Supreme has that distinct Dying Fetus sound, yet it also has some new elements, as you said. How are you able to progress yet still retain your classic sound?
It's always a challenge. Each riff is written individually and it's scrutinized; it's like, "Okay, is this heavy enough? Is this brutal enough? Is this going to do what it needs to do?" And if it does we just file it away and when it comes time to construct songs we pull it out and see if it all works together. We piece stuff together and if we need to add some stuff to it we do that. But it just has to stay death metal; we don't want to take things too far. It's cool to keep it interesting and, to me, this record, I would say is a little more simplistic; it's not as technical as some of the other ones. Usually that's the way we do things and the next album will be really technical. We don't want every album to be the same, so we'll probably switch it up, make it a little more tech with the next one.
Do you think it's important to remain consistent with your music yet still be able to push the boundaries in order to stay relevant as a death metal band?
Yeah, exactly. There are a lot of bands out there; it's almost like a competition in the death metal world, it seems. But we're not trying to be the fastest one or anything. There is a lot of that competition, but hopefully that's done now, with bands trying to be faster than one another and stuff. We just want to remain relevant and we do that by doing what we do.
The title, Reign Supreme, is strong and powerful. Did you choose that because it directly correlates with the sound of the record?
Pretty much. Management, the band and the record label kind of agreed on that title as being the best one that we came up with. At the end of the day, we wanted something memorable and powerful ― nothing mind blowing, nothing crazy, nothing too wacky. But it's something that kind of describes the music; it's kind of hard and challenging to come up with titles these days because so many bands have done so many albums and what-have-you, so it's not the easiest thing. I think we came up with a pretty cool title. It's just about doing what you do and doing it to the best of your abilities, that's kind of what it symbolizes.
Lyrically, is there a specific theme that you tried to maintain throughout the record?
No, not one particular theme; it's just pretty much what Dying Fetus do. It's kind of a mixture of different topics in the songs. We're not trying to stick to one particular theme, but we want to keep it brutal, keep it interesting and try to make some commentary about what's going on in society.
Are the lyrics political in nature?
Some of the songs are. "From Womb to Waste" touches on the topic of abortion, but it's not really political. We're not preaching or anything like that; it's just commentary on today's world. It's observations. Fetus songs are more-or-less beatdown songs too, which are definitely not political; it's songs about revenge and stuff like that, which we've done in the past. It seems like it goes over really well when you have a very vengeful song in nature; it fits well with heavy metal that's for sure [laughs].
The production on Dying Fetus records keeps getting better and better. The guitars especially sound very thick and full on this album. Is there anything you did differently, production-wise?
We spent a lot of time setting up the tones and actually we used a lot of mic-ing techniques. We used a lot of interesting arrangements with the mics and we also used a different head and cabinet from what we used on Decent [into Depravity], so that's where that big wall of guitar sound on this record comes from. We also paid really close attention to intonation and tuning, tuning between every take and making sure everything was as perfect as possible. A big part of my guitar sound is just the basic things of guitar, like being in tune and that stuff because if you're in tune it really fills out the sound, and just making sure everything is tight. The guy we worked with, Steve Wright [producer], he's a stickler and would say, "You can play that tighter" and we never had that kind of criticism ever before with recording the albums. That all lends to it, in making it sound bigger and better.
Is it difficult to transfer those studio recordings to a live setting, especially with the more technical songs?
It's hard to play perfect live. I'm not perfect; I don't know anyone who is. And playing and singing is more challenging, and just the live setting in general ― you're up there and sometimes the stage setup doesn't sound that good and the mix isn't that good. Maryland Deathfest was extremely hard to play, for instance. We didn't have our crew that we normally work with because it was a one-off show and the guy we would normally use wasn't in town and this and that. I usually always wear earplugs and I had to pull them out on the second song because it was so horrible. You get that thrown at you, all these curve balls, and it's hard to make it sound like the album, but we certainly try. Some of the songs that we've been playing for years, we get those really fuckin' tight on a good night. Like the last time we played Chicago, it was a good time, good show and we played pretty well. We just do what we can do, do our best and that's all there is to it.
There have been quite a few line-up changes in the past, but it's been pretty consistent for the last few years. How do you feel about the current line-up?
Everyone's stable. Sean [Beasley, bass/vocals], at this point, has been in the band longer than anyone has ever been in Dying Fetus, besides myself. And Trey [Williams, drums] has been here since '07. Really the only last change was Mike Kimball [guitar], who had been in the band for, say, five-plus years. He had a tragedy in the family and he had to move on with his life; he had to make a decision of whether to stay with this touring life or get a real good job. It wasn't a bad falling out with him. Fetus haven't really gone through any line-up changes in recent years, as you said; it's been stable, we're happy. That's the thing: you've got to find people that work well, are on the same page and can deal with one another, not just on the stage, but in life because, shit, you're travelling in a van or on a bus with those people a lot. It's more than just recording or making music, it's like a marriage or a family ― you know how marriages can have arguments and this and that, but you've got to keep it all together?
Do you think all of the member changes have had an impact on how Dying Fetus's sound has developed over the years.
Whenever we have a really good drummer it always makes us sound a lot better, obviously. That's the key to having a really good death metal band: you need a very good drummer. We had Kevin Talley in the band; he was a really great drummer and things were solid. He did a lot for us. Now we have Trey, who's probably the best drummer we've ever had; he takes it very seriously and it's made the band a little more advanced. It just makes us sound a little better with that. Every guy, every performer we bring in has to have a certain level of professionalism and talent. But everyone's on board and it's a strong line-up, so I don't think I have to deal with any situations like replacements in the near future.
Being the only original member left, have you ever felt any pressure to retain parts of the sound you started with back in 1991?
Yeah, I mean, there have been times with drummers that weren't so great and it was kind of like, "Oh, shit." It makes it a little bit more challenging to make it sound really tight. Besides the really, really early days when I was playing drums, and a couple guys in the '90s, most of the drummers have been pretty solid, but it's just stuff like that ― making sure we have a good drummer. And for the vocals, as long as I've been doing the vocals, they're just the way they are. And the guitars, everything is pretty much the way it should be for Fetus, you know, as long as I'm around.
Have you ever considered getting another guitarist or are you happy with being a trio?
At this point, I'm definitely happy with the trio setup; it works pretty well. It's also hard to make a couple dollars in this game, so less people makes it a little bit easier to keep the band rolling. It's cool, it also separates us and gives us a little bit of an identity. There are a few three-piece bands out here, but not many; it seems to be more standard to have a five-piece. I think it's kind of cool, in that sense. But nowadays it's just so expensive, when we have to fly around and stuff, all the airlines are throwing up their prices and charging for baggage and all this stuff, so it makes it challenging to make profit. Unless Michael Angelo calls me up or Yngwie Malmsteen and says, "Hey, man, can I play in your band?" we'll remain a three-piece. I think it would take an incredible talent to come our way for us to change that.
As the only original member, are you also the shot-caller in the band when it comes to the writing and recording process or is it more of a collaborative effort?
With this album, I was a little more of a dictator, so to speak, but generally we work as a democracy. Especially when we do tours, we all voice our opinions and we try to make things so that everyone's happy. For me on this record, it was the production. I was a big part of the production, even for the simple sounds, snare drums and all the small sounds. I was really there for it, just making sure I was happy with it. I don't know everything, but ''ve been doing this for a while so I know a little bit about death metal and what it should sound like. With the lyrics, I worked on them and Sean worked on some stuff, and I really wanted to make sure the songs were catchy and mosh-y. I think at this point we need that because we're touring with a lot of younger bands and I'm seeing these bands with breakdowns and stuff, so I'm like, "Okay, we've been doing breakdowns too, so let's try to make it a little heavier on the breakdowns on this album." That's pretty much why I always want to have a good, firm grip on what's going when we make the records.
Read a review of Reign Supreme here.