Think death metal and it probably won’t take long before you start naming bands from the U.S. state of Florida. Bands like Death and Morbid Angel kicked things off in a big way, along with Deicide and Obituary. Although hailing from a land of sun and citrus fruits, comparisons could be made of the Sunshine State’s fearsome, raging storms that descend upon its shores and the dark, thunderous music made famous by its inhabitants. The latest band to make such a noise from the American South East is defiantly two-piece colossus Never To Arise. Mike Kilborn (lead guitar, bass) and Gordon Denhart (everything else) battened down the hatches as windows rattled to the blast beat of heavy rain for a chat during one of Florida’s famous storms.
Never To Arise is the brainchild of Pennsylvania native Denhart. Sick of playing in bands who were going nowhere fast, mostly concerning himself with the local thrash metal scene that wasn’t really doing much, music became a hobby and he began writing songs back in 2006. Originally a ten song demo was posted online and gained regular plays on community and college radio stations and a fevered following soon gathered around this back-to-basics style of death metal. ‘There were specifically a few people who were very excited about what we were doing and that kind of gave us some confidence thinking, Well if these people are that excited about it then maybe we have something going here,’ Denhart remembers.
He was joined in Florida by guitarist Kilborn a veteran of 40 bands in the hardcore metal scene of Quebec. His decision to move south to Florida was not down to a lack of music but the decisions of Government. ‘The drinking age went up; I had no work because the bars had all closed down and I moved down here just to get work.’ Influenced by six-string heroes Michael Schenker and Eddie Van Halen, this worship of some of hard rock’s finest would ultimately inform the way he approached his solos for Never To Arise. Teaming up with long-time friend Denhart, Kilborn used his production and guitar expertise to begin putting material together.
The ten song demo would eventually, after some re-writing, become debut album Hacked To Perfection, a release which has been widely praised by the metal world. ‘Yeah we’ve been getting a lot of good feedback,’ says Denhart. ‘We don’t have a ton of fans yet but the fans we do have seem to really appreciate what we do and most of the reviews have been very positive.’ Mike Kilborn’s odd breeding ground of hardcore and classic rock can be heard throughout Never To Arise’s music; the challenging, flurry of notes full of melody and a hint of psychedelic fret play stand out among the harsh blast of the verses.
Hacked To Perfection is an aggressive sonic assault replete with stabbing guitars and strangled, growled vocals. Controversially to the band, just about every review has made reference to the beat being provided by Gordon Denhart’s drum machine. ‘We knew this was coming!’ laughs Kilborn when I broach the subject. This seems very odd considering death metal bands from The Berzerker to Godflesh and Mortician use a drum machine. My reasoning was the sound of Denhart’s artificial, programmed drum blast is something of a jarring contrast to the flowing feel of the guitar playing. They may have to deflect endless comments about the lack of a human drummer but Never To Arise is in no rush to change. ‘This project initially started as a duo and that’s how we want to keep it,’ Kilborn asserts. ‘We’re two strong willed people as it is...and really we just don’t want to deal with another personality right now. This was originally meant to be a duo and that’s kind of how we want to keep it.’
Recording Hacked To Perfection meant Denhart recording his parts then sending the rough tracks over to Kilborn to add his killer lead guitar licks. ‘Initially Gordon wanted me as more of an engineer and bass player and he kind of threw me a bone on one of the leads and he was surprised at how well it turned out to the point where I became the co-lead guitar player.’ Gordon: ‘I already knew Mike was a great player. I was surprised at some of the things he was pulling out of the hat so to speak for the CD and the more he did the more lead I wanted him to play on. So to me that was a very pleasant surprise.’ Mike: ‘And it was so much fun to play over this stuff, it was right down my alley as far as playing goes.’
The writing and recording could not be said to have gone swimmingly, but so happy were they with how Hacked To Perfection turned out plans are already being made to put the difficult second album together. ‘We had some differences of opinion over how things should sound and so it really wasn’t that easy,’ explains Denhart. ‘But it worked out and next time we know what to expect now. So next time out basically it will be planned more thoroughly in advance as far as recording and all that.’ Kilborn continues: ‘I’ve already purchased better software for recording anyways so we already pretty much got a blueprint of what we’re gonna do with it [next time]. Before it was like trial and error.’
The overall sound is heavy and fast of guitar with pummelling drums and lung-bursting, throat-scorching vocals; lyrical themes based on violence and death (tracks like Mutilation Supreme and Misogynistic Acts Of Barbaric Sadism speak for themselves); and horrific, contentious artwork (Hacked To Perfection’s cover is that of a scalped, naked and dismembered woman) based on the lyrics. But Denhart’s words are not from personal experience of torturing and mutilating people. His inspiration comes from real-life news stories of serial killers and the lurid details described by our news channels. Sometimes fact is just as gruesome as fiction.
‘Death metal is getting too fragmented; you got twenty different sub genres. I kind of wanted to do something maybe more consciously on this one that [could have] come out in the early nineties and that was pretty much the goal. It seems we achieved that goal pretty well.’ The whole idea behind Never To Arise was to get death metal back to basics. Like Denhart says, the band wanted an album that could stand alongside the albums of the classic death metal era. ‘That was actually the point of why I started it in the first place,’ Denhart explains. ‘We didn’t want to be quote-unquote a ‘retro’ band, but we did want things to go back-to-basics. And we have unfortunately received some criticism when music critics try to be art critics or whatever. Not everyone is enamoured with the artwork but it fits the songs, it kind of fits what we do.’
The next logical step for any band on the back of a successful album is to take to the road and play live. Not, it seems, an idea running through the minds of Kilborn and Denhart. ‘We’re trying to avoid it!’ Denhart laughs, but Kilborn is slightly more serious. ‘We‘re trying to be primarily a studio band. Down the road if it becomes necessary to do so, it’s something we have discussed; how it would be approached on stage. But really we prefer things the way they are. We always talked about this being a studio band.’
Unless you’re really into your metal, death metal is not likely to be your thing at all. It’s aggressive and constantly in-your-face and is certainly not for everyone. Most bands have an utterly devoted fanbase, if relatively small in number, which is why no one has ever started a death metal band with the intention of making the big bucks. Like Gordon Denhart found, it either suits you or it doesn’t. ‘Basically death metal just seems to fit my style of riff writing,’ he says. ‘I’m not really a pop song writer or even really a rock song writer that much...I enjoy all kinds of metal actually but the death metal, I don’t know, I wouldn’t say it’s like my calling in life or anything, it just seems to be working out pretty well.’ Which is all well and good because, I offer, I can’t see a song like Hyperbaric Torture Chamber appearing on American Idol. ‘Not at all!’ laughs Denhart. ‘No, we’re not cut out for mass popularity!’