Here we have the long overdue second installment of Three Cheers for Sweet Releases, this time I discussed death metal in all its forms with Matt Arrebollo, the drummer for Gatecreeper and Noose Rot. If a discourse on Carcass’ discography, Bolt Thrower and The Eagles are your thing, you won’t be disappointed by Arrebollo’s take.
This was a fun interview, enjoy.
Thanks Matt for taking the time to shoot the shit. Your new album with Gatecreeper, Deserted, dropped last year on Relapse Records. There's so much going on in that album, it's honestly beautiful. As a musician and general music fan, what are your three favorite albums (any genre) that have influenced you most?
Hey Bruce. Thanks so much for having me. I thought about this for quite a while. I had a hard time narrowing it down and picking only three records, but I did my best:
My number one pick is Bolt Thrower’s Honour – Valour – Pride. Bolt Thrower is my absolute favorite band. My favorite Bolt Thrower record is always changing, but right now this is it. It was the first one to feature Martin Kearns on drums, and the only one to have Dave Ingram on vocals. The core of the band was still intact (Thomson, Ward, and Bench) and I’m sure that’s the reason Bolt Thrower always sounded like Bolt Thrower even when they were adding new elements to their sound.
I love the general mid tempo of this record. It’s heavy and plodding, and for me it really creates the vibe of a slow moving tank, unstoppable and inevitable. Lots of good mid tempo double bass work, and the guitar riffs and melodies have a very epic and sort of cinematic quality to them, like watching a very dramatic WWII movie.
I love Ingram’s vocals on this record. Very gruff and monotone, almost percussive. He does a good job of filling Karl Willets’ shoes on this record, it sounds familiar but it has its own flavor. I think he also wrote some great lyrics. One of my favorite lines is from the opening track "Contact – Wait Out": “Sentinel of destiny / Enemy engaged / Numbered with the dead / Take your glory to the grave.” Very bleak and dystopian, and I think those words really capture what the band was all about.
For number two I have picked Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975). I know this is technically a compilation, not an album. But I love the order of the songs and the way they flow. I have listened to this so many times that I feel a little irritated when I hear any of these songs out of this particular sequence. In general I love pop music, and I’m also really into this sort of '70s soft rock vibe. It’s all about memorable songwriting and catchy melodies. “Peaceful Easy Feeling” might be my favorite song ever.
For my third favorite I have picked High on Fire’s Death Is This Communion. Des Kensel is my favorite drummer, and this was the first album I really got into by that band. I like the way the recording sounds a lot, it’s clear but it still has a raw and gritty power to it. And it’s Matt Pike, so of course there are tons of riffs.
The arrangements can become complex at times but never at the cost of good songwriting, and I think even the most intense songs on the record are still catchy enough to get stuck in your head easily. And of course, the drumming is fantastic.
I was not expecting the Eagles in there, really interesting pick. Aside from "Peaceful Easy Feeling," what are your favorite tracks from each LP?
My favorite track from Death Is This Communion is the title track. High on Fire can really get moving at high speed, but I always love them most when they’re grooving (“Bastard Samurai” from Snakes for the Divine is another of my favorites). I like how the song starts out kind of plodding and slow, but then there’s a sort of build up in the intensity with the riff and the drumming getting a little more complex. Then right when you expect it to kick into something a little more uptempo, the song just drops back into a really grooving chorus.
I like the sort of tension that creates, instead of some huge climax the payoff is just that sort of trance-inducing groove that you can vibe out to for 8 minutes.
From Honour – Valour – Pride my favorite track is “K-Machine.” I love the intro that devolves into the little bass rumble as the song kicks in. It’s got a pretty standard verse/chorus structure. The verse grooves hard with the repetitive main riff, and the chorus kicks in with those really triumphant leads that I feel is one of their trademarks. The pacing is kinda consistent throughout the track and again it just inspires images of tanks moving inexorably forward.
I'll have to check out more High on Fire for sure. As far as Bolt Thrower goes, I get the rolling tank vibe, probably on purpose (maybe, haha)! You don't often see HVP listed as a favorite, at least from what I've seen. I pretty always see Realm of Chaos of War Master (or IVth Crusade, personally). What makes Honour – Valour – Pride standout to you compared to Bolt Thrower's other records?
I thinks it’s a more lumbering record than the rest. The almost constant mid pace of the record is something that appeals to me right now, and I’m a big fan of Dave Ingram so it’s interesting to hear him do Bolt Thrower. Even with the addition of new personnel, it still sounds like them. And there’s tons of twin kicking. That’s my favorite.
What other death metal albums feature your favorite drumming moments?
Shadows of the Past by Sentenced has some of my favorite drumming. I really like the inventive bass drum patterns and how they often follow the guitars very closely. Morta Skuld’s For All Eternity is another record that I feel does something similar. It’s just on the simpler side of technical and I think the drumming is really creative and powerful. For more recent stuff I really like Connor’s (Donegan) work in Genocide Pact. Order of Torment is a slamming record and Connor plays with a lot of power and style just like I like it.
I also really liked Dan Wilding’s work on Carcass’ Surgical Steel. His playing can be quite technical, but he has a way of making it feel grooving and straight forward at the same time. I’m really looking forward to new music from those last two bands/drummers.
I was really blown away by Surgical Steel, it really encompassed everything Carcass had done, from their goregrind to melodeath.
I slept on it for a long time. It took me a few years until I finally listened to it. It does have all the elements, some really good song writing and those really over the top Carcass leads. The intro track “1985” is such an awesome track and such and interesting way to start a record. I get so pumped when I hear it.
It really surprised me, glad they came back swinging, since I personally didn’t care much for Swansong (glad it didn’t end up being theirs).
Yeah, I’m kind of a noob and a sucker for catchy songwriting so my favorite is Heartwork probably followed by Surgical Steel. Poser alert! I’m glad they’re still kicking around making good music. And I’m glad it still sounds like them, if just a bit more modern. But not too much.
Circling back to specific drummers, personally, I've always been impressed with Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy) on None So Vile and Vitek (Decapitated) on Winds of Creation, both being quite technical. What are your thoughts on them?
I’m a huge fan of both drummers, though my favorite albums with them are different than yours. With Flo my favorite records are ...And Then You’ll Beg and Whisper Supremacy. I am a big fan of Mike DiSalvo’s vocals on those records. It kinda bridged the gap for me between extreme metal and some of the hardcore I was into at the time.
In my opinion, Flo is just coming into his own on those records and becoming that insane wizard that he is, but also you can kinda hear how he’s a little loose and maybe a little sloppy. I’ve always liked that about his playing from this era. He sounds like a person playing drums, not a programmed drum track. His drumming is still insane, warts and all.
My favorite record with Vitek is Nihility. Hearing “Spheres of Madness” was a real watershed moment for me. At the time I was more of a run of the mill metal kid, I was listening to Pantera and Shadows Fall, a lot of metalcore. But I had never heard anything like that song, a pretty grooving song with those little staccato guitar and double bass flurries.
The person who showed it to me described it as the soundtrack to smoking PCP and getting shot by the cops as you attack them. I had to go home and Google what PCP was, but when I figured it out I agreed completely with that description. I was lucky enough to see Vitek play a couple times before his death. I’ve always been a huge fan of his playing.
One thing I’ll say about both Flo and Vitek is that even when they’re really going off with a lot of technical stuff, they know how to bring the song back to its core elements and make it groove. Both of those guys groove really hard when the music calls for it.
I've always been in pretty in awe of their performances on many of their respective records. There's a part on the Winds of Creation title track at the beginning where everything just stops for Vitek to hit his china cymbal twice. Small moment, but it just sounds so cool. . ..And Then You'll Beg and Whisper Supremacy are super-underrated Cryptopsy albums, kinda get quietly sandwiched in between the Lord Worm eras.
What other albums, any genre, do you admire the drumming on?
Man, so many and the list is always growing... again I’ll go back to High on Fire’s Death Is This Communion, Bolt Thrower’s Mercenary, and Shining’s Halmstad. I’m also really into music with programmed drumming, various pop, hip-hop, some forms of electronic music, stuff where a producer will fill many of the roles of instrumentalists. For that kind of stuff I would say Outkast’s Aquemini and Stankonia, Common’s Be, HTRK’s Work (work, work) and Psychic 9-5 Club albums. I’m really interested in the feel and vibe of programmed drums, their repetitive nature and how people respond to it.
Gatecreeper released a new album, Deserted, last year and it’s absolutely incredible. What was your writing approach with this new material? How did it change in the years since Sonoran Depravation?
Thank you for the kind words. Gatecreeper has always been focused on straightforward song structures that allow the riffs to shine. That hasn’t changed much since the band’s inception. And the process for writing has been fairly consistent since Sonoran Depravation. The riffs are written first and everything else falls into place after. Chase and Eric are quite adept at programming drum parts, so I’ll get fairly complete demos of the songs, and I’ll get to hear what some of their ideas are as far as drums go. I’ll usually tweak them slightly, to make them sound more like a drummer’s approach, or just add little things here and there that I think would give the parts more style.
For the most part, they know how I play and there were many instances during the writing process for Deserted where I would hear their drum demos and think “wow, this is pretty much exactly what I would have played.”
Now that Deserted has been out in the world, how do you think your past releases, like Gatecreeper and Sonoran Depravation, compare?
Well, I am feeling very grateful that it has been so well received. I have been playing music long enough that it’s kinda just what I do. I would be making music even if I knew no one would ever hear it, but it does feel really good to be able to reach so many people, and receive support from so many old friends and new fans.
As far as comparing it to our past work, I think all the guys in the band feel like it’s a big step up as far as songwriting and arrangement. It’s a more refined version of the formula that has worked for us so far, but I would say that the attention to detail is really amplified on Deserted. Everything on the record is intentional and was well thought out. Even more so than our previous work. I’m very proud of it. I think we all are.
Deserted is certainly something to be proud of! What’s your favorite track off of it?
I think my favorite track from new record is “In Chains.” I think it’s one of the more driving songs on the record. The riffs are heavy, it’s got some good grooves, and there were lots of opportunities for me to add some tasty drum parts, spice it up a bit.
You’re also in another metal band, Noose Rot. How does this project differ from Gatecreeper?
Noose Rot is a band I do with my friends Jim and Adam, from Minnesota. I think the main difference is that it’s a side project for all the members, and we work together remotely. It’s only a studio project so far, although I think we all would like to do some shows eventually. We have one release out through Sentient Ruin Laboratories and we will hopefully begin work on new music soon.
Stylistically, the music is a bit darker than Gatecreeper. It’s a little bit more on the cavernous side of death metal. The riffs are really saturated and bleak, and the overall vibe I think is a bit more... evil? I don’t know. For drumming I’m pretty much doing the same thing I do in Gatecreeper, lots of groove (i.e. I’m limited by my lack of technical prowess and general aversion to speed.)