Spain’s Undead knows damn well how to make a killer death metal record that won’t die. Since bursting onto the scene in 2015 with their debut EP, Blood Enemy, Undead has steadily built a following and a name for themselves as purveyors of true, classic death metal. The promise of their early EPs was fulfilled on their debut LP, Existential Horror in 2019. That album showed that this four-piece was anything but a flash-in-the-pan.
Earlier this year, Undead kept the hot streak alive with the release of Putrefactio, their sophomore effort. Like their previous full-length, Putrefactio is another gruesome, brutal ride through some of the best songs modern death metal has to offer. The horde of Undead followers should be damn excited about the future of the band as they have no plans of slowing down anytime soon. I recently caught up with guitarist A. Von Hell to chat about her band’s killer new record.
First off, how did Undead get started? What made you want to start this kind of band?
A. Von Hell: Undead is the band I’ve always wanted to form. V. Repulse [vocals/guitars] and I shared this vision about how the ultimate death metal band would be for us, and we just did it. We’re selfish and play what we want to hear. Gladly some other people like it too.
How did you get into death metal in the first place and who are some of the bigger influences within the genre on the band?
A. Von Hell: When I was a teenager I was obsessed with Metallica, and that made me investigate more about thrash metal, which I loved and for a while was all I listened, but I found death metal when I started a quest to find more aggressive music, I knew there had to be more, darker and more violent. I guess those were the feelings I was looking for back then. I can’t even remember exactly which death metal band was the first I listened to but the first one to have a huge impact on me was Carcass. A friend told me I’d love this band as they were vegetarians like I was, and the music was great, so I remember being hooked instantly. I also remember discovering Dissection. That was the band that blew my mind, it changed all the concepts of extreme music I had. Those days discovering new aggressive bands was exciting and it was like finally finding your tribe.
If I’m honest with you I don’t listen to too much death metal anymore, especially since playing in Undead. Maybe because I don’t want to be subconsciously influenced by others or just because I’m satisfied just with my own band, I don’t know…I don’t think any particular band influenced Undead. There are so many bands I love that I don’t want to name a few and let others out. I think absolutely every band we’ve ever listened to in our lives is there in our brains in a way and they shaped us as musicians and how we interpret music in general.
What’s your process like for writing the music side of things?
A. Von Hell: Basically everything starts with me and V. Repulse sitting with our guitars on our own or together. For me it is really important to write music with a musical instrument in my hands, I just can’t do it any other way. And I know a lot of people use computers and “write” directly with MIDI or whatever, but for us it all starts with a riff on a real guitar. From there the rest of the song usually evolves. We like to keep things fresh so if we’re stuck or something, it doesn’t matter how good a riff could be, we just discard it when we see it’s going nowhere. We don’t keep a secret stash of riffs, everything is there in the songs or deleted forever. Luckily we don’t do that often and songs usually flow more or less easily. Later when we have a decent structure, we use the computer to add demo drums and send all this to the other members of the band so they can add their own lines.
How do you write the lyrics for the band? What do you turn to for inspiration for the songs?
A. Von Hell: I always have ideas about the lyrics, sometimes even before having any music. I usually wait to write the lyrics until all the music for the album is done, so I really know what music goes best with each idea. Sometimes it’s really obvious but other times I have my doubts so I like to try different things before having something final.
I guess I always go back to the same themes I’m passionate about, not only for lyrics but as my interests in general, like Indian philosophy, quantum physics, the human mind, psychedelics, literature, I don’t know… as crazy and draining as I find the world and the human beings living in it, there’s always something fascinating about existence in general, so there’s a never ending source of inspiration just there, mainly because we don’t know anything for sure about the universe and our role in it.
You recorded your first LP, Existential Horror, in 2019. How did getting to record that one come about and what was that process like? What did you learn from your time in the studio that you’ve taken to future recordings?
A. Von Hell: The process of recording Existential Horror was very similar to recording Putrefactio, and I’d say even the gear used was basically the same we use in Putrefactio. We recorded the drums in a studio in Madrid and the rest in our humble home studio. Then the tracks were sent to Sweden too, in that case to Necromorbus Studio. As everything in life there’s always room for improvement and trial and error is the best way to learn, so although using almost the same equipment, we learn to get more out of it each time. I’m very pleased with the result of both albums, they’re different between them but we always give all that we have at the time.
What can you tell me about the new album, Putrefactio? Were you wanting to continue what you did on the debut or branch out at all? The singles are killer and I can’t wait to hear the full thing! [Editor’s Note: This interview occurred prior to the release of the full album]. What was the writing/recording process like for this one? Was it an easier process than the debut?
A. Von Hell: Thank you! We never have a specific plan in advance. We’re very spontaneous when it comes to writing, so we don’t know how it will turn out as a whole until the album is done. We just play guitar without knowing where it will take us, just trying to bring some riffs from the world of ideas, and then we try to make some sense with it. Recording the drums at Anti Studio was an improvement this time, and of course the outstanding job Dan Swanö did with the mix and master, was exactly what we wanted. I think this album is a bit different from our first, can’t tell exactly why or how, but it has a different vibe I guess. I think if an artist, of any kind, is honest, it is inevitable to evolve in a way. As we evolve as humans we evolve as musicians too. So even if it’s not on purpose, there will always be changes, for which I’m thankful, because we don’t want to keep [being] stuck playing always the same, this genre is already a small niche, so pushing those walls is a good thing, in my opinion.
I wanted to ask about the singles songs on the new record specifically to get the story behind the musical/lyrical inspiration for them. What’s the origin of “Demon of a Thousand Lies?”
A. Von Hell: “Demon of a Thousand Lies” is about fear and anxiety, emotions I know quite well. Your own mind can create monsters and horrors worse than any Hellish creature imaginable. Those who live with anxiety know how that “demon” is always there in the dark, twisting reality and dominating your life at any minute.
What about the origin of “Discordia?”
A. Von Hell: To understand “Discordia” you just have to take a look at the comments of any theme around any social media, for example. People are full of hate, giving opinions nobody asked for, about things they don’t know shit [about]. Feels like freedom of speech is now just freedom to hate. Never in history before have we had access to so much knowledge and communication tools as we have now and most of the people only use it for destructive purposes. It’s really sad, but it is a mirror of the society we created, everybody is so frustrated that they’re always looking for a reason to throw hate to other people’s faces, ready to create discord out of nowhere. We should reflect more on ourselves, we can do better.
That album cover is killer too! I love the design and the whole vibe to it. Who did it and how much direction did you give them? To you, why does that best represent this album?
A. Von Hell: The cover was made by Misanthropic Art and we basically gave him the name and context of the album and gave him all the creative freedom. He came up with this idea based on the classic alchemical illustration, and we think he nailed it. We like to work with artists like that. Just giving them the trust, and they always deliver. I mean, you work with an artist because you like what they do, so let them do what they do. At least that’s our vision.
What’s your local scene like where you are? Is there one to be active in and what kind of effect has it had on you all as musicians?
A. Von Hell: I don’t feel like there’s a big scene here in Spain, specially extreme metal scene, despite having really good bands, fanzines/press, public, even some decent promoters and venues who really care about the music and the scene, although there are a lot of leeches out there too, but I don’t think that’s a local problem, more than a global issue…overpriced venues with horrible conditions that were crying to be saved during the pandemic but now they forgot about the bands again. You can’t just walk too far if you go alone. We’re always open to collaborate with other bands and promoters, and we do it every time we can, and in general there’s camaraderie there. I wish more people would realize that the capitalistic brainwash of “you can do it on your own” is bullshit. Of course you can do things on your own, but making community with other individuals will always reach further, and hopefully creates a strong scene so everyone can thrive. What can I say, despite all the blows I’m still an idealist…
Lastly, what’s next for Undead? What are your goals for the future of the band and plans for the rest of 2023?
A. Von Hell: As difficult as things are right now for touring, playing live is what we love the most, so we’re closing all the dates we can, mainly after the summer, to take this Putrefactio(n) everywhere they let us play.
Photo at top: Putrefactio album cover.