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w/ Matt Harvey of Exhumed

Matt “Hellfiend” Harvey is a name that is synonymous with the term “gore metal” (or “gore grind”). Front-man and founder of one of the quintessential gore metal outfits of the early 1990s, Harvey has since gone on to build a solid reputation for himself as one of the most influential and deeply-rooted key players of the gore metal sound.

Currently providing guttural grunts, spine-ripping screams and gruesome guitar riffs for Exhumed, and his upcoming feverishly anticipated love letter to early-era Death, Gruesome, Harvey has also previously performed with an impressive roster of highly regarded (and utterly repulsive) death, thrash and grind metal acts—including Gravehill, Scarecrow, Athrenody, Repulsion, Noothgrush, Cretin, Exodus and Gory Melanoma. Harvey is a heavy metal mastermind whose unique approach to song-writing mixes the macabre imagery of classic and contemporary horror culture and anatomy text books with the definitive death metal sound of the ‘80s, while gouging small amounts of angst-ridden inspiration from the prevalent socio-political issues of America—and tops it all off with a healthy drenching of blood…naturally!

Awaiting the upcoming debut release of Gruesome, Harvey is currently touring North America, disseminating the aural atrocities in toxic doses with his Exhumed comrades: Bud Burke, Mike Hamilton and “Slime” as part of the superlative Through Death and Grind Tour, alongside Voivod, Napalm Death and Iron Reagan.

HMS: You guys are currently tackling the “Through Space and Grind Tour”. How is that going so far? What are you most looking forward to on this upcoming stretch of dates?

Matt Harvey: Well, it seems like we’re always on tour, haha! This string of dates is going to be a blast. We loved touring with Napalm Death a couple of years ago when we were out with them and Municipal Waste, so it’ll be a bit of a class reunion with them and Iron Reagan. The real cherry on top for me is getting to see Voivod a bunch of times. It may not really come through in our music, but I am a MASSIVE Voivod fan. I’ve seen them live many, many times going back to December of 1989. They’re one of those bands that I like pretty much the whole catalogue. I love The Outer Limits and Phobos almost as much as I love the Killing Technology era. They’re one of the most original bands in heavy music history. So it’s really exciting for me. Obviously Napalm Death is one of our main influences, and the line-up is just too good.

HMS: Exhumed is a band that has not only endured numerous line-up changes, but also an ever-changing metal landscape that is undeniably over-saturated by excess technicality and convoluted song structures. In previous interviews, you’ve expressed your distaste for this excessive technicality in contemporary metal. Do you think the very essence of Exhumed lies in your focus on sticking to an old-school death metal style?

MH: Well, I think the essence is more about sticking to our style. I mean, we’re not like a lot of newer bands who set out to be deliberately “retro,” I think. And I enjoy listening to a lot of those bands, so don’t think it’s a knock on them at all. For me, I’m very stuck in my ways as far as what I listen to, death metal-wise. I’m very open about music in general, but not death metal, haha! I’m a bit of a purist and I kind of think you should go to the source to get at what something is essentially about. Like, if you want to understand Spider-Man, read Amazing Fantasy #15 and you get the original essence of the character, without all the convolutions of 50 years of different incarnations and takes on the character. If you want to understand death metal, you go to Seven Churches; you go to Morbid Tales, Scream Bloody Gore, the Massacre and Nihilist demos, that kind of thing. So our sound is definitely rooted in that late ‘80s / early ‘90s thing, before the genre really started to change too much. Although, I think in comparison to a lot of those records from that time, Exhumed is pretty modern. If you put on Necrocracy next to Slowly We Rot or something, it’s going to sound comparatively modern. Of course, compared to a band like Decrepit Birth, it’s going to sound really old-school and simplistic. It’s interesting, I’ve always felt like we never quite fit in anywhere – we’re too thrash for a lot of contemporary death metal fans, and far too death metal for most thrash fans, [and] we have a lot of crust punk and grind influences as well, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag. But all of our main influences do stem from the 1980s and early ‘90s. I couldn’t play stuff like Origin if I tried anyway. I’m just not that kind of guitar player.

HMS: How do you guys maintain your signature style while continuing to grow as musicians without getting caught up in the gimmicks and the noise pollution of contemporary metal?

MH: Not getting caught up in the gimmicks and stuff is pretty easy, as I just don’t listen to much contemporary metal. There are plenty of newer bands I like, like Lantern or Horrendous, and Night Demon and Enforcer and stuff, but they’re all old-school oriented, whether they play death metal, heavy metal, or whatever. I don’t listen to music with breakdowns and sweep arpeggio riffs and stuff, so there’s no way it would creep into our writing. I like living in a bit of a bubble where I don’t know what bands like Carnifex or Whitechapel even sound like, you know? Again, it’s not a knock on them; it’s just the music taste of a guy pushing 40. I’m not trying to be “cool” or “current” or compete with anyone in terms of being faster or more brutal or whatever. What I’m trying to do is just be honest and present music that represents what I’m into and what death metal means to me. It’s gonna’ be highly subjective, and that’s fine.

HMS: Considering how heavily over-saturated the metal market is with tech-death, do you feel that your focus on keeping it old-school gives you a leg up in the industry, or do you feel that it sets you back at all?

MH: I’m sure it’s a blessing and a curse kind of thing as it alienates a certain segment of people and endears us to others. That’s the kind of thing I don’t really spend time thinking about, as it’s up to other people how they perceive you. Ultimately all you can do is just be honest in what you’re doing and try to play the music well and write good songs and the rest is just gonna’ happen. I’m constantly surprised at peoples’ perception of us and it drives home just how subjective the whole experience is. I try to just focus on what I’m doing and not worry about the rest.

HMS: Anatomy is Destiny is often cited as a fan favourite, and the peak of your discography. What do you feel contributed to the overall success of that album and what makes it stand out from the other studio albums you’ve released?

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"I’ve always felt like we never quite fit in anywhere..."

MH: Is it? I don’t know - haha! I don’t hear that that often, but maybe people are just being polite. I guess the album came at a time when the band was practicing like crazy – I mean we were in the rehearsal room four nights a week, really working our asses off. I also kind of made a breakthrough with my own playing before that record and was playing a lot better. Ironically to me, the album suffers from excessive technicality and convoluted arrangements, haha! To me, the first thing I think of when I think about Anatomy is the band dissolving on kind of a low note a couple of years later, so it’s not a record I revisit particularly often or anything.

HMS: In hindsight, did drummer Col Jones’ departure signify the beginning of the what could have been the end for Exhumed; had you not caught a second wind and decided to re-form in 2010?

MH: Definitely. He and I were the nucleus of the band and have been basically brothers since we met when we were 12 years old. So it was a very traumatic thing for me, and we had no end of difficulty trying to find an adequate replacement. We worked with Danny Walker on tour, and then Matt Connell when we recorded Garbage Days Re-Regurgitated, and they both did good work, but the dynamic wasn’t the same, and I wasn’t ready to accept that. After Gore Metal, when Bud joined, I felt like we had a very strong and solid lineup that I wanted to kind of define the band, and seeing that dissolve was really disheartening. It was like a marriage ending or something, and it kind of put me off doing anything for quite a while. If, after recording Anatomy, I really had known that Col, Mike and Bud would all quit within a year and a half, we would have set to working on the record as our last record and it more than likely would have been. We would have done some sort of “last hurrah” kind of tour/gig and gone out feeling good about things. But because the band kind of fizzled out with more of a whimper than a bang, it felt very unresolved to me and always was kind of hanging in the back of my mind like unfinished business.

HMS: You made a very impressive post-hiatus comeback with 2011’s All Guts, No Glory and 2013’s Necrocracy. How did the hiatus alter your vision and mentality of the band itself and the writing process?

MH: I think the hiatus helped me remember how positive the band had been in my life. I think I had this idea drilled into me that the reason I was in my 30s with no savings, no mortgage, a crappy car, etc. was because of the focus I put into the band. And what I realized after not being in a “serious” band for a couple years is that I just don’t care about those things. I mean, sure, having money and security is nice and makes certain things easier, but I really don’t care or want to spend any time thinking about that stuff. So, much like Anatomy, I was kind of coming out of a rough spot personally and writing the record was a way to focus my energy on something ultimately positive that I ended up being really proud of. As far as my take on the band, I realized that Exhumed is its own entity, independent of me or Col Jones or anyone else. The band didn’t exist as an active entity, but it still existed as a thing out there and wherever I went, it kind of... kept popping up; even when I was living in Hawaii for a year and half. I tried to understand that independent existence, and come at writing new material from a purely objective perspective – like I was joining a band and helping put together some new stuff in their style. It also reminded me just how much I really liked this style of music and that process of re-discovery was really fun and invigorating.

HMS: Lyrically, Exhumed’s music is drenched in gore and dripping with blood and guts, but underneath the layers of vile viscera there exists a heavy core focus on prevalent socio-political issues. This gives you guys almost a sort of punk-rock edge. Can you elaborate on the lyrical themes and allegory you build your music around?

MH: Well, I’ve always been into punk and stuff, and I always enjoyed the fact that bands that were sonically very abrasive were directing that rage in a positive way – maybe not positive, but constructive. I even did publicity for Alternative Tentacles Records for a couple of years and that further got me into some of the more political stuff like Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn or whatever. I’m not the most politically aware guy by a long shot, but I certainly think that there are some very deep-rooted problems in American politics that are really eroding the quality of life that I think are a basic human right. Necrocracy literally means “rule by the dead” and what we’re seeing in America is rule by corporations, which are by law, people, yet they are clearly not people, they’re not alive, they don’t eat, they don’t breathe, etc. So I thought Necrocracy wasn’t too much of a stretch to sort of encapsulate the current political state of things – we’re ruled by artificially created “people” that are not alive. Also, the fact that corporations are literally killing the democratic process with the cooperation of the Supreme Court and congress makes the title work fairly well, in my opinion. All of that said, I don’t really want to listen to a band guy’s take on the election or gun control or equal pay for women. If I really was that informed and up on the issues I wouldn’t have time to be writing death metal records, I’d be at law school or running for local government or something. So the gore metaphor works well to create a nice balance between shocking escapism and a serious attempt at commentary. I wanted to create something where the listener could just take the lyrics at face value and enjoy the imagery and the typically death metal over-wrought vocabulary and leave it there. However, if they wanted to read deeper and read the liner notes and what have you, they could get a different level of meaning out of it. There have been several songs that have been allegorical in the past, but nothing quite as conceptually tight as Necrocracy. I don’t know that I want to keep writing about politics constantly, but it was a cool thing for that record; kind of our...And Justice for All or Extreme Aggression, or whatever. When I was really devouring music as a kid in ‘89 or so, most of the current thrash bands were fairly political, even if their take on things was pretty surface level and not really well informed, it made an impression on me.

HMS: Summarize your thoughts on the current state of metal.

MH: I think the genre is actually super healthy. There are so many great tours going on, and fewer boundaries, at least in the US, between thrash/death/black metal bands touring together and playing together. Also, so many bands are still at it, so you can still see the best bands from so many eras of metal, live, whether your thing is NWOBHM or thrash or grind or whatever. That blows me away. Even if there’s a bit of what I would call “classic rock” syndrome going on, where older bands just release new albums so they can keep going on tour and trotting out the “greatest hits” material. But that’s inevitable after there’s been a couple of decades of material accumulated that has to be condensed into an hour and a half or whatever. Even within just death metal itself, there’re tons of bands keeping the old school sound alive even as others are pushing things forward in terms of technicality and doing their own thing.

HMS: What does the future hold for Exhumed?

MH: Well, we’re going to be working on a new record sometime next year, we’ve already been writing a bit for it and we have some really cool reissue type stuff on the horizon that’s pretty exciting. We’re just going to keep doing our best to write the best songs we can and play them with intensity. And drink a lot of beer.

Lacey Paige, HMS