If you are looking for inspiration for an extreme album, something that will provide you with a depth of monsters, madness, and malice beyond the imaginings of mortal man, H.P. Lovecraft’s work has to spring to mind. Plenty of bands have drawn inspiration from the writings of the imaginative New Englander and his Cthulhu mythos. Lovecraft’s tales of infinite horror and the splintering of the brain as it attempts to deal with a universe full of vast, unfathomable nightmare creatures makes perfect fodder for extreme music. Secret death cults, winged monstrosities, ancient evil predating the world of man, these are all worthwhile fodder for exciting death metal albums.
Formed in Spain in 2007, Graveyard has pumped out four stellar albums, the last three of which are part of a tetralogy based on Lovecraft. The band has earned acclaim from the death metal faithful for its commitment to making no-frills death metal albums with strong lyrical content and interesting compositions. This May, the band will put its brand of death on display when they take the main stage at the returned Maryland Deathfest. I recently caught up with Graveyard to talk about the band’s history, inspirations, and what the future holds for one of the most exciting bands in the genre.
I always like to start with getting the origin story of the band so how did you guys meet and decide to form a band? How did you come up with the name?
Javi: Hey! Julkarn and I have been longtime friends. We had been talking about starting a new band with an old school death metal approach, I guess around 2003 or ’04, but for many reasons (basically the lack of a proper drummer for that style) we never did it until we found the right guy in 2007, Gusi, and we recorded our first demo just a few weeks after. You need to keep in mind that now finding a drummer for a band like this is pretty simple, it wasn’t in 2007 when the old school thing was pretty much buried by time and dust. We just wanted to release that demo and move on but for whatever reason the scene liked it so we decided to find another guitar player and just try to transform into a real band, and that’s what we did. Fifteen years later we are still here preparing our fifth album.
What got you into death metal in the first place? What appeals to you about the style and who are some of your main influences?
Javi: I’m 42 so I got into it because at that time, ’93/’94, that was the most extreme stuff out there (black metal wasn’t part of the metal mainstream yet). I was buying metal magazines (for) like three or four years but the harder stuff I had listened (to) at that time was Metallica, Testament, Megadeth… You know, the thrash stuff. At that time, death metal was on its peak of popularity so those ugly, disgusting, and hard to read logos were everywhere. I guess it was just a matter of time until I found out how those Dismember, Carcass, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Death, Cancer, Deicide, Gorefest (albums)… sounded. I’ve been discovering many new bands during those three decades, but I always go back to my favorite early ’90s records. Not sure how I could describe what I felt the first time I listened to death metal, it’s been a long time ago, but I think it was just a natural progression from hard rock to heavy metal, from heavy metal to thrash and from thrash to death metal. As far as I remember, those early albums that captured my attention mostly were all a bit melodic (not cheesy). I mean, if you listen to classic records from Carcass, Morbid Angel, Entombed, Demigod, Edge of Sanity, Pestilence, Necrophobic, At the Gates…they all had that sense of melody compared to other stuff like Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, or Incantation, which were more brutal and “non-musical” if you know what I mean. I was always more attracted by the musical-melodic ones.
What is the music writing aspect of the band like? Has the process changed at all over the years?
Javi: Yeah, it has changed over the years due to some different circumstances like musicians quitting the band, some other members moving to a different city…you just adapt. At the beginning it was more a team thing, these days, on the other hand (due to the geographical distance between all of us), we work individually and send files back and forth. We were in our late 20s when we started the band, now we are all in our 40s so life, obligations, family… force us to look for better ways to work together. In the end, as long as me or Julkarn are around, no matter who’s writing this or that song, it will sound (like) Graveyard 100%.
What is the lyric writing process like? Do you use any specific inspirations and, to you, what makes an effective Graveyard song from a lyrics standpoint?
Julkarn: Well, we’re a Death Metal band so the lyrical content pretty much comes with the style. Our first album dealt with death, tombs, corpses, and everything that surrounds the end of life. After that, we started a tetralogy based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft that will end with our next album. We still don’t know what will come afterwards, but you can be sure it will deal with the darkest topics that this type of music is known for. At the end, all what death metal sings about is, not surprisingly, death.
You guys have had a pretty consistent lineup for awhile now. What makes this group work so well together? When you’ve had openings in the past, what do you look for in potential Graveyard members?
Javi: The core of the band (me, Julkarn, and Gusi) have been there since the beginning, basically because we are all friends and then comes the band, not the other way. The band is just a hobby for us, we don’t try to make a living from it so there’s no real motivation for changing and changing members until you find the right ones. We’ve had three different second guitar players, but we are still good friends with them, I mean they quit for personal reasons, not for band reasons. My rule of thumb when it comes to line-ups and members is pretty basic: I need down to earth, easy going guys with no big egos (who) understand that the band comes first, the album comes first, the songs come first. If you want to show off, wank on the fretboard, and show the world how good and skilled you are, it’s fine, but I don’t want you here, we don’t need you here. Unfortunately, most of musicians these days are like this. I can tell you this since I (have worked) in a recording studio for 15 years now and I see it everyday.
What was the process like for recording/writing your debut, One With the Dead? Looking back on it, are you still happy with that one or are there things you’d change now that the band has more experience?
Javi: It’s been a while (laughs)! As far as I remember, Julkarn and our previous guitar player, Sbe, composed most of the songs while I composed just two. At that time we were a real band with four members rehearsing together compared to now thats it’s just me and the drummer and occasionally the other three guys (when shows are approaching, basically). One with the Dead is a (song) of its era, it was composed 14 years ago and released in May 2009. Even if I see the Graveyard DNA there, the style was a bit different, more focused around the Swedish thing which at that time wasn’t hyped yet. I would probably add a bit more of our personal touch to that record, but know it was 2009, we were still looking for “our sound”so we took the easy way, which was just reproducing old and already existing formula.
Staying with that theme, what was the recording/writing process like for the most recent record, Hold Back the Dawn? Do you feel more comfortable than you did one the first few releases with getting what you want accomplished now when you step into the studio to record?
Javi: Yeah of course, basically because we all had a loooot more experience than back then 15 years ago. These days I know how I want the album to sound before starting the recording process, I’m not sure it was like this back in 2009 or 2012 when it was probably just a coincidence that the album sounded that way. I really like how Hold Back the Dawn sounds but I can tell you the next one will sound better, I’m pretty sure about this.
Your album artwork is always very memorable and consistent. Who does your covers and how much direction do you give them?
Julkarn: The artwork is an essential part of the process for us. I cannot fully separate the music from the things I see in my mind when listening to it. What the music suggests is to us as important as the notes, chords, and scales we’re using, if not more important. So far we have worked with many talented artists (Roberto F Giordano, Matt Carr, Daniel Desecrator, Alexander L Brown, etc) and all of them have succeeded in capturing the spirit of what we were trying to convey with our music. I think we are a little special in the sense that imagination and the visual aspect are essential to our writing process and that transfers to the artwork, of course. What you see in our albums is what we had in mind when writing the songs.
Has the COVID pandemic affected the band at all, either in terms of playing live or in getting music recorded?
Javi: Yeah of course, like everyone else. We were veeeery lucky to be able to release our latest record Hold Back the Dawn in September 2019, if I’m not wrong, so we could play six or seven shows and one European tour before the first lockdown. We had to cancel a lot of gigs and festivals for 2020 but compared to some bands that couldn’t play a single show for their new album, we were very lucky. We composed and recorded one song during the lockdown for our new 7” split with Finnish Lie In Ruins. We worked on this one by distance, using our home studios. I could (bring) some studio stuff to my home during lockdown so I could record, mix, master…
How did playing Maryland Deathfest come about? How excited are you for that and what are your goals for the set? Is this your first time playing there?
Javi: We knew Evan from the Netherland Deathfest so he just told us if we wanted to be part of the American one from Maryland! We are all super excited, not because it’s a death metal festival (after all we have played plenty of it here in Europe) but because it’s our first show ever in (the) USA and I can’t imagine a better stage to make our American debut! Goals? Just do what we usually do, which is go on stage, play our favorite Graveyard songs, move our heads, invoke the ancient ones, and deliver 100%. Can’t wait to be there!
What’s your local scene like over there? Do you feel it has shaped the band in any way? If readers dig your sound, who are some other bands they should check out from your area?
Javi: (The) Spanish local scene back then in 2007 didn’t almost exist or it wasn’t as powerful as it is now. Back then, there (were) just three bands here that had some sort of relevance like Avulsed, Machetazo, and Haemorrhage. The other bands were just local. It’s been in the recent years that you see more and more Spanish bands appearing on foreign mags, touring outside of the country, being on big label’s roster… Bands like Wormed, Teitanblood, Altarage, Ataraxy… They all have a good international following, which was hard to imagine 20 years ago. These days we have a very good and strong scene, many bands, festivals, venues, young people with the right musical taste and humble attitude… I don’t know, it’s a healthy scene if you ask me and the more important thing is that it’s not as isolated as it used to be in the ’90s and part of the ’00s.
Lastly, what’s next for Graveyard? What are your goals for the future of the band?
Julkarn: Our main priority right now is to get together again, which will be the first time in almost three years due to the pandemic, of course. We will spend a few days rehearsing and arranging a new setlist for the few shows already confirmed. After that, we will probably get drunk, of course. Some traditions are important. On the longer run, we have already started writing music for the new album and hopefully we will start recording at the end of the year, so there’s quite a lot of work ahead of us.