Death metal and psychedelic rock may seem worlds apart, but the two are actually riding the same psychic wavelength more often than not. In fact, I’d argue death metal has carried the mantle for psych for well over three decades. Both push guitar music to induce cerebral intoxication and overdrive – aided by copious volume – which can seem suffocating and freeing all at once. Psych’s trippy visions of boundless cosmos elicit the same heady pleasure of death metal’s visual fortes: dripping, melted skin, godly beings crushed into dust, endless wars begetting endless wars.
No band embodies this connection like Finland’s Ghastly, whose latest album Mercurial Passages, out on May 28th through 20 Buck Spin, is as mind-bending as it is brutal. The trio, comprised of chief instrumentalist Ian J. D’Waters, vocalist Gassy Sam, and guitarist and vocalist Johnny Urnripper, make death metal so frightening because it’s so enthralling, bending melodic tremolos and guttural growls into an all-encompassing unreality. Ghastly don’t just bash, even though songs like “Out of the Psychic Blue” and “Parasites” do that quite well – they massage you into losing any tangential sense of normalcy. Passages comes off the heels of their second record Death Velour, one of the most notable death metal records of recent times for its haunting sensuality, silky and menacing in the way Suspiria’s reds and blues are pleasing to the eyes. No other death metal band could have velour in their title and justify it! Passages delves more into psychotic madness than lust pungent in death, though it’s just as rich. Finnish death metal, at its finest, hurls towards outer limits without losing its chilly metal core, and Ghastly are emblematic of the country’s distinctive approach.
Read our interview with D’Waters below.
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SPIN: What sort of current, if any, runs throughout the songs on Mercurial Passages?
Ian J. D’Waters: The everflowing stream of consciousness that wanders through the surrealistic corridors of our nightmares.
Was there a certain sort of madness in making a record during the pandemic?
All the basics were already recorded before the pandemic put everything on hold. So, it just gave us more time to focus on things like mixing, photos, layouts etc., and wait for the perfect time to release it. If we start thinking ‘Is there any point of releasing anything?’ when we can’t do shows and promote our work that way, yeah it’s madness, but we are all in the same situation here and it’s good to put your art out even though we cannot enjoy live music yet as we did back in the day.
Ghastly was a recording duo up until this record. What does Johnny Urnripper bring to this record?
Actually, Johnny was already introduced on Death Velour as a singer and guitarist. He has more growling time on the new album as he possesses this perfect Finnish death metal sound that suits well along with Gassy’s more twisted, blackish way to produce vocals.
Ghastly has a big psych feel compared to a lot of death metal bands. Do you feel any connection between death metal and psych music? Is death metal in its own way mind-bending?
From the start, death metal, for me, was something that took me to different places inside my head. Death metal is a genre that benefits from having influences from many sources. As a fan of both death metal and psychedelic music, it’s not weird I have produced music that combines these elements.
Death Velour had this really sensual air about it, which made it really stand out. Does any of Death Velour’s eroticism carry over to Mercurial Passages?
Voyeurism has morphed into sadomasochism.
Could death metal stand to be more sensual?
If you ask Mr. Malmsteen, then of course… But yeah totally, it wouldn’t suit everybody and that’s just a good thing.
Finland has its own distinct death metal sound, especially in bands who aren’t afraid to really delve into the weird, like Demilich and Demigod. In your opinion, what makes Finnish death metal the way it is? How does Ghastly embody Finnish metal?
Every country or region has their own aura in all of art produced. It happens to be that the cold darkness has rooted in the forests of Northern Europe and Finland got the depressive, cold and isolated slot. The weird and uncompromising way to do things here is something that makes our music unique. I really don’t do music the way that I grab my guitar and start doing “Finnish death metal”. No, the Finnish touch is always there even if I have taken influences from the other side of the globe. I can’t get away from it, and if I could, then the music wouldn’t be authentic.
Fight or flight, you’ll be set either way with these picks:
Kataan – Kataan (Prosthetic)
Vattnet Viskar lives! Nicholas Thornbury’s new band with Astronoid’s Brett Boland, Kataan, is a most welcome return. “Vessel” in particular is a sweeping finale, marrying Vattnet’s post-black metal sound with a more Emperor-like grandeur. It obliterates the kvlt-unkvlt divide (which still rages no matter how tiresome it is), meeting through a unified penchant for enormity, and the record is worth it for this track alone.
Violet Cold – Empire of Love (Self-released)
Prolific Azerbaijan black metal project Violet Cold unleashes two particularly dizzying left turns on their latest record Empire of Love. They’re “Be Like Magic,” which is like a Soundcloud-era Cruelty and the Beast, and the blackgaze makeout anthem “We Met During the Revolution,” which fully realizes the romantic potential in such a lush and charged sound. You can feel teenage lust and the desire for a new progressive wonderland regardless of your age or your jadedness, and that is a real powerful, dangerous feeling.
Hatred Surge – Grinding Reanimated Violence (625 Thrash/Rescued from Life)
Hatred Surge was part of the late 00s-mid 10s Austin unholy trinity alongside Iron Age and Mammoth Grinder, and their grind-powerviolence-death-metal monstrosity remains unrivaled. Grinding Reanimated Violence collects two live sets, one from 2010 when they terrorized poor folks who actually showed up to Fun Fun Fun Fest (R.I.P.) early, and a 2007 set in France with members of Iron Lung and The Endless Blockade. It’s Texas at its most raw, what else do you need?
Filth Is Eternal – “Zed” (Quiet Panic)
If you ask me, Seattle’s Filth Is Eternal should have kept their former moniker, Fucked and Bound. But what do I know about branding? On “Zed,” from their forthcoming to-be-titled album out in August, their caustic metallic hardcore isn’t toned down at all, and vocalist Lisa Mungo is still a pro at submission and control.