Exmortus is a band from Whittier, Calif. that was formed in 2002. I recently had a conversation with Exmortus’ singer/guitarist, Jadran Gonzales, who started the band. They decided to call the band Exmortus because the band loved the movie Evil Dead. In the second movie’s intro, it mentions the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the book of the dead. However, they changed the name to the “us” ending instead of the “is” ending. Last September, drummer Mario Mortus left the band to focus on his screen printing company. Jadran spoke about how the current lineup of Exmortus came together and how the lineup change has contributed to the songwriting style on the new album. We discussed what it was like working with producer Zach Ohren, as well as working with members of Spellcaster and Holy Grail. The Sound of Steel that was released on June 8 by Prosthetic Records.
How did the current lineup of Exmortus come together?
Since Mario and David left the band, I decided to continue writing the new album but needed another guitarist and drummer. Sure enough, I got an offer to tour with Darkest Hour and Warbringer, so I figured I’d ask Chase and Carlos [of Warbringer] if they’d like to fill in for the tour.
Not only were they more than willing to play double-duty, but they also were more than willing to record parts on the record. They really saved my ass on this one. I guess they returned the favor, considering I filled in as guitarist for Warbringer for a winter tour in 2016. I’m just glad everything worked out smoothly.
With the change in your band’s lineup, I hear you took on a lot of the songwriting. How much input did you allow from the rest of your band for this release?
I’ve always written most of the ideas, but Mario contributed a lot of riffs and lyrics in the previous albums, so I was a little worried about not having his creative input this time around. Although he left, he still gave me feedback on the new work, as well as our new bassist Phillip Cody. I always appreciate help or feedback, but I guess no one contributed much this time because they were confident with my ideas even though I tend to doubt myself. [Laughs]
For this record, Chase wrote his own solos, of course, and Carlos followed my drum ideas fairly closely but played his own fills and changed up some beats to better suit a real drummer — which is for the best since I’m not exactly a drummer. Everyone has their own style and expression, their own strengths and weaknesses. So it was interesting and refreshing to hear Chase’s and Carlos’ take on the new Exmortus tunes. I’ve known them for such a long time, so it wasn’t awkward when we first started jamming or discussing the ideas.
When I was listening to the album, “Riders of Doom” makes me think of some epic cowboy showdown, like in Tombstone or something?
Oh, hell yeah. That’s another great movie. This song is actually directly inspired by the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. Not the most recent release. Honestly, I think that movie is just crap compared to old Arnold flick. I love the score so much that I wrote this song as a kind of tribute to Basil Poledouris’ work on the score.
During the scene when Thulsa Doom invades Conan’s village there is an awesome track playing with a choir singing in Latin. I did my best to translate the meaning behind the words and used them for my own English lyrics. The lyrics are rather intense, and it reflects on times of conflict when you have to face the odds, stand up for yourself or whatever you believe in.
Was there an overall theme to the lyrics of this album?
I think triumph over oppression is a common theme. I want to write music that motivates others to action in their passions. If you have seen the “Make Haste” video, it is similar to that. “Make Haste” is a more aggressive gung-ho approach and can actually be seen in the perspective of the oppressor, while other tracks motive the self in perseverance. Of course, we’re known for using high fantasy or sword and sorcery art and imagery, but the themes we deal are very real and are inspired by life. You for example interpreted “Riders of Doom” as a Tombstone kind of showdown and that’s great! You hit the mark on what I tried to portray in the music and lyrics.
And speaking of movies, one of the new songs, “Strength and Honor”, is inspired by the movie Gladiator. I used some catchphrases from it in the song. The life of the gladiator is akin to the life of the musician; the ring is our stage and we provide entertainment while putting our lives on the line.
There are a lot of sacrifices we make to keep it going and of course there are the dangers of the road. Some people may call what we do a hobby and if it is, it is a very expensive hobby to say the least. Times can be tough while balancing day jobs and investing a lot of time and money into the band, but it’s well worth it. It’s exhilarating, much in the same way a gladiator may feel when he survives the match.
When you listen to the album now, what is your favorite song to listen to?
The one I am most proud of is probably “Riders of Doom”. I’ve always loved the Conan soundtrack since I first saw the movie as a kid, and I wanted to pay homage to Basil Poledouris, and I like to think I did a good job on this track.
Please describe how your band got together to compose the opener “Make Haste”?
I began writing it with the daunting pressure of getting another album done. I started messing around in hasty fashion by playing a basic chord with fast rhythms and changed the intervals until I came up with something worthy of a riff. The dread of meeting deadlines and doing things right were a constant pressure, so I think I captured that emotion in this song — hence the name. I am very much into classical music and studying scores, so I applied the sonata form structure with the ideas of this song — a method I’ve done with many Exmortus songs.
With “Into the Maw of Hell,” it sounds like you got some major bad blood with someone and there is going to be a confrontation.
The lyrics of this song are mostly written in second person; something I don’t do very often but I find it very confrontational and demanding so it worked with the music. With phrases like “practice what you preach,” I’m pretty much lashing out at religious and political oppressors and other charlatans that take advantage of people for profit. Since the first verse is a bit anti-religious I kept the theme and used “the Maw of Hell,” the very fear that the doctrine created, as a metaphor that they are only damning themselves and the rest of real world with their greed for power.
What do you feel like the most valuable lesson is that Zach Ohren taught you about recording music?
Practice, practice, practice. I mean, he didn’t really teach us to practice more but he would somehow get the best take out of us. He’d have us do the same little part repeatedly until we felt it was done well and with the right attitude. It’s just a reminder that you must be prepared when going to the studio because that recording will last forever, no going back. He even encouraged me to do more of the high Halford screams. On “Strength and Honor” and “Victory or Death”, I only planned to do the high-pitched stuff in little specks here, but [he] suggested that I do a little more and to sing melodies. So, I guess that was a little lesson in experimenting.
Tell me about some of the guest spots you have had on this record with members of Holy Grail and Spellcaster?
I hit up Bryce Van Hoosen [Spellcaster/Silver Talon] and Alex Lee [Holy Grail] to shred some licks on the album and I’m glad they were down because I think they did an amazing job. Spellcaster, Holy Grail and Exmortus have done a tour together before, and we’ve all had the chance to jam together in the green rooms — and of course Lee and I have done many Shred Talk episodes on YouTube — so collaborating with them was easy and fun.
On an album, I like to hear variety. So I think it was a good idea to hear their take on the new jams with their own solo spots. Four lead guitarists on an album sound like a bit much but I think our styles differ and yet compliment each other enough to be tasteful.
I hope everyone enjoys it and gives it a listen. I am really proud of the work. I am always doubting myself as an artist so I am always going to feel that way. I came into this album more confident and more sure of myself than any other album or work I have done and I am glad how everything fell together. See you around, we will be touring too.
See Exmortus perform on July 9 with Black Fast, the Absence and Novareign at New Jersey’s Dingbatz, and on July 10 with Hatchet, the Absence, and Novareign at Brooklyn’s St. Vitus.