In The Iron Grip Of Steve Asheim
Florida death metallers Deicide return to the fray with In The Minds Of Evil, their 11th studio effort, released via Century Media Records. Recorded at AudioHammer Studios in Sanford, Florida with producer Jason Suecof, the album boasts eleven tracks of blistering, blasphemous music, delivered as only Deicide can. The band burst on to the scene in 1987, so they have plenty to say regarding extreme music, a genre they’ve been immersed in since some of it’s formative days. Fronted by vocalist and bassist Glen Benton, Deicide is one of the cornerstone bands of American death metal. “Along with Cannibal Corpse and Obituary, Deicide helped pioneer the American death metal sound. Their pivotal early albums were recorded at Morrisound Recording in Florida, which hosted many of the upcoming American death metal acts in the early and mid-1990s.”
Iris missed her opportunity to interview Steve Asheim in the late 1990’s, because the band’s tour manager at the time decided that she should interview Glen instead. She is delighted to have been able to make up for lost time with this 2013 interrogation, where Steve chats about the band’s new disc, technicalities of extreme metal drumming, and the state of death metal, in the USA and abroad.
I’ve got a digital press copy of the latest Deicide record (In The Minds Of Evil) and wow, what a killer. So much thrashy, death metal evil seeps from every sonic pore. You guys have “still got it” after all these years in the scene. That said, what fostered the spark, for you guys to begin demo’ing or writing new material for your latest?
Hey, thank you very much. I’m glad you’re digging on it.
Well, when it’s time to start writing the next record, it’s time, you just start. And yeah, once you get in a good flow, you kind of get in the zone where writing and arranging is all you’re thinking about. So the need to do it is what gets me there. But once I’m in the zone, it’s an awesome place to be.
Did you do a lot of pre-production, or is this more an organic stream of consciousness – i.e. you start writing in the studio & record what you come up with that day.
I think some of it went off like that: some vocals and guitar and bass stuff. The song writing – the parts and structures – were all done pre-pro, before we got there. But once we were in and mic’d up, there was a lot of on-the-spot stuff happening. Most of my drum fills were improv’d. And I know the fellas just let loose with some on-the-fly kind of stuff together, and you can really hear that. I think the spontaneity and the energy, it really rings through.
You’re the core of Deicide musically; the main music writer, the wizard behind the curtain so to speak. And you’ve put in your proverbial ten thousand hours. At what point do the riffs make the leap in to songs, and at what point do you cut off and say ‘okay, it’s done, let’s release this?’
Well thank you, I appreciate that.
And you know, you’re right, but in the sense that the riff becomes a song when the drummer finally gets a hold of it and puts the beats to it, creates the flow from one part to the next, and can do things one way or another to make something that previously might not work, all of a sudden work. Once you cycle around and reach a logical conclusion, that’s when you know you’ve got a song going in the right direction.
The drummer in Deicide’s case is me. So yes, once a guitarist gets in a room with me – his parts, we work it out, demo it, and it’s now a song. If I happen to be the one who wrote the music, I just go and record the drums for it, then track the guitars to it later. If the fellas like it enough to learn it, then we go from there.
It’s not like rock where we can pick out some melodic sing-along chorus and say ‘that’ll hit’. Do you have a sense of what’s going to take off? Obviously on an eleven-tune record with no song over 4 minutes, and at least three first-pass killers, you’ve got a pretty strong grip on quality songwriting.
Yeah, really – you just need strong riffs. Once we have heavy riffs we all like, we just weave them into cool arrangements, then finish them off with vocals and leads.
You guys just completed a tour. How did that go? Did the crowds demand old material only, or were they receptive to the new stuff? It’s certainly very mosh-able.
Crowds always want old stuff, and we give them plenty of it. We have no problem playing old stuff for them – we know they want it, so no problems there. We’ll play some new stuff too, and plenty of that as well.
We didn’t do any on the last run because the record wasn’t out yet, and we’re just not ready yet. We’re gonna get that new stuff all tuned up and ready for gigs, and hit the road with it.
And yes, those songs will be great live; they are very mosh-able, as you said.
One thing that sets you guys apart from other death metal bands is that you have some variety in your tunes. It’s not just the 300 bpm tempo and “we tune to low A”. I like how you lent a nod to your earliest Amon material (in tracks like “Beyond Salvation”, or “Misery Of One”) and still kept ideas moving so relentlessly forward. What do you find, you have to do, to stand out from ‘the legion’ these days?
You know, we just never really paid much attention to what other bands were doing, so there was never much chance we’d be influenced by or sound like any one else. We do that intentionally, but also it’s impossible to live in a box. We have our old influences obviously, and we hear plenty of new stuff with bands we tour with. We just don’t let much of it into our psyches. Not that we don’t listen to and enjoy it, we’re just not influenced by it.
Guys like Derek Roddy moved away from solely death metal drumming. And then there are guys like Marco Minnemann who drum but don’t do extreme metal as a career – they float in to the genre for one release or tour, and then float back out. You’ve stuck with one genre and one band for a while now, so how do you keep this fresh and challenging?
I just like what I do, and want to keep doing it better. I don’t want to play jazz; that’s just weak. And clinics are too tedious for me.
No, I’m right where I belong and I couldn’t be happier. I get to play my songs my way in my time, when and where I want to.
Why death metal – a niche subgenre? You could make some coin in a cover band and not have to travel. Extreme music is a tough way to earn a living. What draws you to extreme metal ‘professionally’?
We do well enough at this to keep us doing it. It’s a grind, but we’re used to it, so we just keep going. And yeah, if it was just about money, I could be doing a hundred other things, but it’s about more than money. It’s everything else too. The travel and adventure, the respect and admiration, meeting people and accomplishing goals, and looking back on rare opportunities not squandered.
Death metal music seems to have stayed about speed and ‘aggression’. That said, a kick drum in death metal seems to have morphed over the years in it’s sound or tone. I remember (it seems ages ago) standing in front of Doc (ex-Vader, R.I.P) and just being blown away at his speed & technique. But by then even,
Yeah, Doc was amazing. We did a bunch of gigs when he was with Vader, and I was sorry to see him pass.
But I think triggering the kick live, and in the studio for that matter, was a crucial step in the evolution of making death metal kick drums definable, and therefore the music in general more definable and listenable and understandable. It really helped the whole genre musically evolve. Without those articulated kick drums, the music itself, and the scene as a whole, may not have become the monster it did.
What are your current endorsements?
I’m working with Pearl drums and hardware, Paiste cymbals, Vater sticks, and Axis pedals. Those are the companies that give me gear, or good deals on gear, so I’d like to thank all those guys. But I also use the Alesis DM5, Remo heads, SKB cases and Roland/Boss BR1600, just because they all make quality gear.
You mentioned doing a lot of improvisation for some of your fills. Does that put you to task to learn those fills for live shows ‘exactly like on the record’, or have you found that fans aren’t that picky ‘as of late’?
Well, I don’t know if fans are that picky. I know I’m not that picky. I’ll end up learning the cool and more memorable fills, and then just like for the record, I’ll improv the rest. But I noticed that when you get used to hearing something, you’ll miss it if it’s not there.
That’s when I know I should learn that particular fill: when I realize I don’t hear myself playing it.
You also mentioned staying fit & healthy to be able to outpace the younger guys. There used to be a joke that after a certain point, death metal bands would get a drummer named Roland (= drum machine) and play along as fast as they could. At what point does it break down? Where does speed lose it’s power and impact?
If a band can make 300 bpm’s sound like a good song, I’m all for it. And the faster I can manage to play… I’ll try to slip a super fast part onto the record. But as for getting Roland to join your band, personally for me, if there’s no real drummer, I’m going to get a beer.
That said, a lot of the younger fans are definitely impressed by full speed double bass ‘floating’ and ‘gravity’ blasts. To aspiring extreme metal drummers, what exercises would you recommend to build speed and endurance?
You know, I can’t really recommend any technical exercises, but I will say to keep practicing, and play to your ear, and what you think you should sound like. If you hear things in your head a certain way, then play it that way. That’s a good way to develop your own style.
On the album’s artwork: was the concept worked out with the band ‘custom commission’, or did you find it pre-existing and use it for the cover that way?
This bloke from Australia (Simon Cowell) painted this artwork (“Power Of The Mind”), and Glen Benton happened to come across it on the web when perusing for a cover for the record. It’s almost a good enough match that conceptually, you’d think it was commissioned, but nope. Just two people apparently thinking enough alike to get the job done without meeting, or even saying one word to each other about it ever.
Your new stuff sounds a lot faster, a bit more sculpted or polished, and ‘more European’ then previous offerings. I’m hearing some of the same elements I heard in Severe Torture, Nox, and Vader. Now, you guys are ‘tastemakers’. Since you guys are rightfully hailed as one of the ‘founding father’ bands of the genre in the US, I’ll ask: is this where American death metal is heading?
I can’t really say where an entire scene is heading, but it seems to be where we’re heading. But you never know – the next record may be different than this one. it’s hard to look that far into the future, but at least ‘we did good’ for this record now.
Slayer won a couple of Grammy’s & got covered by lounge singer Richard Cheese a few years ago (seriously – look for his “War Ensemble”!)… It’s strange and surreal to see extreme metal becoming accepted as a mainstream genre. Deicide fans were passionate about the message, and Glen’s vocals are pretty clear. Are people still subscribing to ‘a message’ or is it more about the music these days?
I think you’ve got enough fans that are into one aspect or another or both. if someone gets a message, or if they’re just into the tunage, that’s all fine with me. Whatever gets them out to the gigs, or into the new record.
I think these parody makers simply ‘grew up’ as fans, and know they wanna help spread the word in whatever comical way they can, and that’s also cool with me.
What’s one thing a casual fan wouldn’t guess, about Deicide?
Maybe that we’re actually all not total assholes. But whatever – sometimes you’ll never lose a certain stigma, but it keeps certain types at bay. You take the good with the bad, you know.
What’s Order Of Ennead up to these days?
Not much. We work on some new stuff and then look for a new deal. We’ll see. It’s a cool band and I like what we do, but there’s guys in there who have day jobs, so that’s always a pain in the ass.
Do you have any final messages or ‘parting words’ for your fans and readers?
Thank you for all the years of interest and support, and we hope to see you all out on tour here very soon.
Thank you for your time!
You’re welcome, and thank you for yours.
Band Lineup, 2013, studio:
Glen Benton – Vocals, Bass
Jack Owen – Guitar
Kevin Quirion – Guitar
Steve Asheim – Drums