When it comes to the new wave of American death metal, Undeath are one of the biggest bands in the movement. Along with fellow death metal acts 200 Stab Wounds, Frozen Soul, Sanguisugabogg, and more, Undeath are not only honoring the history of death metal, but also expanding upon the genre’s legacy.
The band caught the attention of metalheads immediately with their 2020 studio album debut Lesions Of A Different Kind. Now, roughly two years later, Undeath have just released their follow-up studio album, It’s Time… To Rise From the Grave. An utterly gross and unrelenting venture into the bowels of death metal, Undeath double down on their sonic horror with this brilliant follow-up LP.
We adore this new record, so when the chance arrived to speak with Undeath vocalist Alex Jones – of course we jumped at the opportunity. In our interview with Jones, we talked about the new Undeath album and what the band learned from their previous studio album. Jones also shared insight into his personal artistic journey, sharing how he came up through hardcore and punk music, eventually making his way into death metal. We talked about death metal vocals, the band’s love for the video game Doom, and more.
The Pit: What brought you into the death metal genre? Did you start out with an interest as a kid? Were you a late bloomer, like during your young adult years? What’s the first death metal record you came across that really grabbed your attention?
Alex Jones: I feel like I was somewhere in-between a young adult and a late bloomer when it came to death metal. I started listening to more extreme, or niche genres of music, for punk and hardcore; metal to me – it was always a little bit unapproachable in a lot of ways. The things I loved about stuff like hardcore and punk, like how real, I guess, serious it was in a way – to me, metal just didn’t seem that serious a lot of the time. It wasn’t until a little bit later on, like early high school, I started getting into Norwegian black metal. The subgenres of metal that were a little more… so serious in a way like a lot of metal I was familiar with wasn’t. Then from there, once that bug was in me, I was just trying to discover as much metal as possible.
Death metal didn’t really click until later in high school. It was when I heard stuff like Cryptopsy – [the Cryptopsy album] None So Vile was a huge record for me. [I also discovered] Bolt Thrower, War Master, Cannibal Corpse, and, Torture. But it all comes back to None so Vile, I think that was the first death metal record I ever heard where I was like “Okay I get it, I get what this genre can be.”
The Pit: That’s interesting to hear that, from an artistic standpoint, your background in heavy music started in hardcore and punk, but you ended up fronting a death metal band. With an interest in hardcore and punk – and no pun intended – how did you come to find a voice in death metal?
AJ: It’s funny – when you are coming up through punk, hardcore, and screamo – there’s such a strong emphasis placed on learning how to do everything yourself, doing everything your own way, and making avenues for yourself and your own creativity. So those were values that were instilled in me very early on. One of my all time favorite bands is Fugazi; everything about that band – they totally carried this banner of self efficiency, and very important mindsets and value systems that I still hold dear to this day. The way they carried themselves as a band, the way they booked their own shows, made everything affordable to their fans – stuff like that was really important to me.
So when it came time for me to start wanting to do my own bands and scream, just because I was so well versed in punk and hardcore, I was like “Well fuck it I’ll just try to do it myself.” I sort of foolishly was like, “I don’t need to learn how to do this first, I’m just gonna try and do it,” So I spent years and years doing various different bands, screaming my fucking head off, with no real technique what so ever.
It got to a point, right before Undeath started – I had been shrieking in bands for 6-7 years – my voice was getting so tired. I was shredding it every single night. My old band, Truce, we were kind of a screamo band, we would go out on these two week long tours, and by the third day, my voice would be completely gone because I had no idea what I was doing.
When it came time to start doing Undeath, when Kyle [Beam, guitarist] from Undeath asked me to try out, it was kind of a welcomed relief because I knew doing death metal style vocals would be A). A lot less of a strain on my vocal chords than just shrieking at the top of my lungs. And B). It gave me a very unique opportunity to sit down for the first time ever and ask myself, “How do you do this? How do you front a band? How do you scream in music without hurting yourself?”
I feel like Undeath is the first time in my musical life that I’ve ever actually taken the time and discipline to learn how to do this thing I’ve been attempting to do for like a decade.
The Pit: To hear that death metal styled vocals are more – for lack of better term – “easier” to do than screaming in a hardcore/punk band, that’s somewhat of a surprise to hear.
AJ: There’s varying degrees of projection and stuff you can do with death metal vocals of course. When you think about how the voice and diaphragm works, when you’re screaming at a higher register – unless you’re doing fry screams, there is a technique there – if you generally want to put power and projection behind a higher scream, you are going to be using your head voice for that and throat a little bit more. There’s natural ware and tear that comes with that territory; you’re going to be breaking down your voice to be able to do that for a long time. With death metal, it’s all in your gut and diaphragm; it’s all pulling sounds from a much more phlegmy and mucusy [sic] place. It’s easier to do those kind of vocals for a long period of time.
The Pit: As a band, what did you all learn from Lesions that you brought into It’s Time…? And creatively speaking, was there a desire to push the genre of death metal? To say, elevate the conventions of the genre?
AJ: The things that we learned from Lesions – well there was a lot. When we recorded that album, it was a very frantic and, not rushed, but it was a very intense process getting that album done. At that point, we had been doing everything at our own pace; there wasn’t really any outside pressure from labels or any kind of expectation to get things done by a certain time. [During that time], we got hit up by Prosthetic [Records] and they asked us if we were working on a record, we said yeah. We had three or five songs done at that point for Lesions, but we were taking our time with it. Then they were like “Okay great, do you think you could have it done in like four months?” Then all of a sudden the clock is ticking.
We had to rush to get the rest of the songs written, we had to rush to get it recorded, we had to rush to get it mastered, rushed to get the artwork. It was a rush to get everything submitted by this very short deadline. Which ultimately it worked out fine – I’m not bitter about that at all; it was a fun experience, even though it was very hairy. But with It’s Time… – that was a much different experience. There was no deadline what so ever to get the record submitted on time. In fact, we were actually done kind of early with this one. Prosthetic hit us back and they were like, “Well let’s actually wait a couple months because we want to make sure we have vinyl pressed for it.” We were fine with that. We were really ahead of the curve this time around. Instead of having four days in the studio, we had like over two weeks, which was awesome. We had the addition of Tommy [Wall] our bass player and Jared [Welch] our second guitar player in the band for this one, so [we had] a ton more avenues in terms of songwriting and the way we could approach harmonies and playing these songs live.
We learned a lot in that sense, but in terms of how we were looking to push the genre – to push death metal forward – I don’t know if we were. I think we were just trying to be the best Undeath we could be. We were aware of the stuff we really liked on Lesions and the stuff that really worked; I think with this new record, we were just going in to recording it with a mindset that we were going to double down on all those elements and just try to really capitalize on the things that we think make the band unique and enjoyable.
The Pit: What’s the Undeath goal in writing lyrics? When you’re writing about brutal things, is it like trying to make your best “horror movie”? Is it trying to push the envelope on, “Can we turn a stomach”? Or is it more about creating tongue-in-cheek fun?
AJ: You know, I think ultimately everything comes down to servicing the song as a whole. I don’t think anybody in the band views it this way, but I personally don’t look at Undeath as the kind of the band where the lyrics and the music of a song operate in separate worlds. Because there are a lot of bands out there – the music is great, the lyrics are great, but [the two] don’t really mesh in a way that elevates the song as a whole. I can think of so many lyricists out there that are awesome, but their lyrics don’t service the song; and I can think of so many songs that are disserviced [sic] by bad lyrics. With Undeath, everything that we do is pushing towards this unified whole, this singular goal of just making the song as memorable and enjoyable as possible.
So when you’re working with something like death metal – it lends itself so naturally to gory lyrics, violence, torture, macabre stuff – we are not really looking at the lyrics as a way to express anything specially about how we feel, we’re looking at the lyrics as a way to express what is going to be the best way is to get the song stuck in people’s heads. It’s just having lyrics about violent stuff; and not shocking, but intense subject matter, is a very easy way for people to remember what they are singing along too.
The Pit: In the case of your song “Necrobionics,” that track involves several awesome nods to the video game Doom. What was the reason to explore that video game?
AJ: You know, we’ve been fucking around in Doom related subject matter since the beginning of this band. Sentient Autolysis, our second demo, there are at least two songs on that demo that are about Doom pretty much. The imagery of having demons and zombies, and graphing machine guns onto them – it has always been very enticing to us. It’s something we explore over and over again. The song “Enhancing The Dead” is obviously about that; “Necrobionics” is obviously about that. We were actually joking that, because they are back to back on the track list, that we would call “Necrobionics” and “Enhancing The Dead” the “Necrobionics Suite” – call them part one and part two. But that was a little too ridiculous, even for us.
Doom is a sick game; it’s a game that Kyle, me, and the other guys in the band enjoy. It’s just full of great heavy metal energy. It is this endless well spring of inspiration for us; it tends to be something we come back to a lot.
The Pit: Undeath is a relatively young band in the world of death metal. Playing alongside other relatively young death metal bands, like Frozen Soul and Gatecreeper, and personally for you – coming from the punk and hardcore scene – what has it been like to be part of this death metal community?
AJ: It’s awesome man! It’s never something I take for granted, not even for a second. As long as I’ve been playing music, in bands, and trying to make bands happen – the things that Undeath has been fortunate enough to get to do are things I’ve been wanting to do forever. The simple opportunity to go on a full US tour and not have it bankrupt us is something that I have wanted to do since I was 15. The fact that we are able to do stuff like that is amazing to me; it’s something I’m constantly pinching myself over, I can’t believe we get to do stuff like this.
I feel like bands like Frozen Soul, Sanguisugabogg, and the bands that we kind of view as our peers, I feel like members of those bands come from the same world as I do. There’s a lot of punk and hardcore in this new wave of death metal bands. When I talk to dudes from these bands, I get the overwhelming sensation that we are more similar than we may think (as people). Like we’re more similar than just people who play in death metal bands.
Its been a very fun, unique, and eye opening experience getting exposed to this larger world of music, and the music industry, so to speak. I try to stay grounded the entire time, I try to stay humble.
We at The Pit would like to thank Alex Jones for his time in talking with us! The new album from Undeath, It’s Time… To Rise From the Grave, is out today. You can order the record via the Undeath Bandcamp page.
Words by: Michael Pementel