Ask any metal fan and I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to tell you their own personal list of bands that are too big and bands that are too small. Everyone has their own unique takes on who should be huge by now and who shouldn’t. For every band you say, someone else will argue why you’re an idiot. There’s no pleasing everyone and agreement in the world of taste and opinion can be hard to come by. For my money, when asked what bands I think are criminally under-heard, Seattle’s Drawn and Quartered comes right to mind.
Since 1994, Drawn and Quartered has been pumping out quality album after quality album in the classic death metal style. Through impressive musicianship, thought-out lyrics, and memorable cover art, Drawn and Quartered has built a name for itself throughout the death metal underground. Despite eight totally killer albums, Drawn and Quartered has still struggled to get national attention and land on bigger tours, which is a complete shame because, to me at least, these guys should be one of the leading names in death metal today.
If you need any further proof that Drawn and Quartered makes death metal albums better than most anyone else out there, put on 2006’s Hail Infernal Darkness and tell me I’m wrong. After that, don’t stop there because literally any other album you grab from them will blow you away with how powerful the material is. Now, on the verge of playing their set at the upcoming Maryland Deathfest, Drawn and Quartered is looking toward the future and expanding their fanbase as wide as possible. I recently talked with vocalist Herb Burke over Zoom about his band’s rise through the death metal underground and what the future holds for Drawn and Quartered.
How did you get into metal and then into death metal?
Herb: It ended up being a natural progression from hearing, initially, old hard rock and stuff, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and stuff on the radio, and then hearing heavier stuff, live Judas Priest and finding Iron Maiden and getting into, from there, Motörhead, Venom, Metallica, Slayer, the whole path from there. Aging myself of course but I’m old.
How did you start playing bass?
Herb: In Drawn and Quartered it came about because Greg (Reeves), our previous bass player, decided to quit the band. I had been doing that (playing bass) a little in a side project so it took a little time. It was basically part of the process of writing the material for Feeding Hell’s Furnace. It was also a process of me getting my shit up to another level or three to be able to do this. Then I just got into playing, picked up a guitar, and started sounding out various things. I was actually listening to De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and thinking, “a few riffs out of this you can actually hear.” You hear an open E on the guitar and recognize where that’s used and then you just kind of start working from there. That’s sort of what I did. I actually grew up in a musical household so I grew up playing an instrument too, but then that kind of faded as I started getting more into heavier stuff. It’s also come back a little.
Was it a tough adjustment getting used to doing bass and vocals?
Herb: A challenge, yeah for sure. There’s definitely some things that are more challenging than others. I would say that the challenge is one of the things that I like most about doing it. Having spent so many years just being a vocalist, I’d gotten to the point where I can kind of do this in my sleep. I basically just need to make sure I can stand and work on my presentation and all that crap. Obviously, singing and playing has several additional levels and so it definitely was something new and a challenge to start figuring that out.
As far as playing the Drawn and Quartered songs, there are some that are easier than others, of course. Particularly the earlier albums, I was basically just writing lyrics and working out vocal placement in however I thought would best enhance the song, so that doesn’t always go along with the riffs, so sometimes in songs there’s something that’s going counter to another part so it really requires a lot of mental mapping, if you will, in each moment to know you’re doing this and this. Then the next moment you’re doing this but not that. It probably helps keep the brain cell death minimized, so that’s a good thing. There’s obviously some songs, some of the newer ones sometimes, with the lyrics or the parts written with a little more in mind for that but then also I’m just as likely to go into the studio and throw down some vocals and do the same thing. Like, “Ok, it’s going to sound best this way” so I kind of fucked myself again with something that’s going to be difficult to sing and play, but I just soldier on and figure out a way to make it happen.
How did you get into doing vocals in the first place and realize that you had a talent for that type of singing?
Herb: It’s definitely something that I kind of figured out when I was fairly young that I wanted to do. As far as the deep voice, that kind of came out a little bit organically as the musical style started developing. “Oh, this is cool, this is cool, that’s cool. Oh wow, listen to that dude. Oh, what the fuck?” One of the biggest “What the fuck” moments was one time I heard Barney Greenway in Napalm Death. I think it was the “Live Corruption” video that they put out around the time of Harmony Corruption that I saw or heard first. I heard that coming out and was like, “No way!” Dude just figured out how to make a horrific sound that people hadn’t heard before so I just sort of did the same thing. Obviously there’s a few folks that have kind of influenced me a lot but as we’ve kind of gone along, I worked on honing the style and really dialing it in to get the maximum evil without disappearing completely up the sewer pipe.
How did Drawn and Quartered get started?
Herb: Basically, it could be traced back to one little shit-hole pub that’s been bulldozed a long time ago, Lake Union Pub. Back in the early ’90s, kind of when everything was starting to happen, a handful of people in this area that were into the music and were trying to start bands, we’d get together and play there. Basically, both Kelly (Kuciemba) and I, we each saw each other’s first performances so, if I’m remembering the timeline right, his was first and it was the original Plague Bearer. It was a fine show and then a few months later my first band, Butchery, played its only show. I think, basically, both of our respective lineups had pretty much fallen apart after our respective shows.
A few months later, Kelly kind of just showed up at my door (saying), “I’ve been working on these songs and saw you play. I’d like to have you do the vocals on this if you’d like to.” I didn’t have anything else to do so I said sure and we spent a few months recording with the lineup that we had at the time. (We) went into a pretty good studio actually and recorded the Bubonic Death demo and that was kind of the start. Then that lineup, of course, went through a few fits and starts and fell apart again, and Kelly was introduced to Matt Cason, the original drummer for Drawn and Quartered and started playing with him. Then I basically joined up with that again and it’s been building from there. We spent a lot of time writing the material that ended up being the first album, and finally got that recorded in ’97 and issued in ’98 and then reissued in ’99.
Was there a pretty big learning curve on recording that first album?
Herb: Oh yeah (laughs). It’s definitely 20/20 hindsight shit. If only we could have continued to have recordings like the first Plague Bearer demo cause it had a really good sound. We probably took in Effigy of the Forgotten and Dawn of Possession and said “Make it sound like these” and so he goes “Ok” so it kind of does. Well, not the music but there’s a riff in there that might be from those other albums, I’m not actually sure. When we ended up recording To Kill Is Human, we had kind of been beating the songs in rehearsal for a long time. At the time, death metal was pretty much on the outs for most people and so it was pretty much, if we want to make a recording happen, we have to do it ourselves and that’s what we did. We went into a studio in town and just ran through the shit a few times and recorded the best take. It’s recorded on tape. I remember for my part, I think I went into the studio with a six-pack and ran through the songs two times and doubled the vocals and that was basically that. It’s got a rough sound because the engineer was more used to recording garage bands so it’s like, no, make it sound like death metal, dude! It is what it is and there’s some people that think it’s our best album. If they do, then that’s great but I think we’ve come quite a ways since then. It’s also a little bit of a different style from the stuff that followed, which was kind of a product of the lineup that we had and the way the songwriting worked at the time. That made those songs the way they are and without that, it probably never would have sounded like that.
What was the music writing process in those days and has it changed over the years?
Herb: It’s changed and it hasn’t changed, to an extent. Kelly has always been the one behind the music. That’s not to say there haven’t been contributions from other people along the way, certainly in the middle of the band history, Greg and Dario (Derna) would have contributions, riffs, and at least one or two of the songs is more or less written by them (saying) “Let’s do this and this” and then there you go. Most of the lyrics come from me.
As far as the actual process, that’s varied a bit. Kelly’s gone, “Here are songs that are finished” to everyone (saying) “Here’s a riff, here’s a riff, here’s a riff…let’s try putting them together like this. Well, maybe not like this, how about this? Yeah that sounds cool” and there we go.
How about your lyric writing process, has that changed at all over the years?
Herb: Not so much. I haven’t always had the luxury, but what I always want to do is have a song that is, ideally, as completed as possible with leads and stuff so that I can really get the full effect, the full feeling and mood of the song, and have that sort of lend some aspect to the lyrics and the vocals. It doesn’t always happen quite so much that way. Sometimes there’s a couple more songs that need to be done and I’ve got these ideas that are sort of half-finished and so maybe I better finish those. In a nutshell, it’s pretty much always been (get) finished song, write lyrics to it. Sometimes it’ll be a song that’ll inspire a new idea and other times it’ll be an idea I was writing some lines down for but hadn’t particularly decided to use it for any specific thing.
I feel like you guys have some of the best lyrics in death metal. What appeals to you about the darker side of life that you write about?
Herb: It’s hard to pinpoint but I know definitely when I was younger (I was into) the extremity and the blood and gore and all that. I’ve always tried to, at least to some extent, go a little more toward the psychological and get a real feel for the horror. If I write a line that makes your stomach turn, maybe, that’s what I consider is successful, not that all of them are going to, or that I want all of them to, but I think along those lines a lot of times. Some other things are just basically hate vomited onto a stage.
Do you ever worry about going too far or find yourself pulling back a little when you’re writing?
Herb: No. I’d say maybe just a little bit yes to (pulling back) or at least more recently it’s something in the back of my mind, just because there’s so much more of that out there now than there was back in the day. It’s not that there wasn’t some of that back in the day, either but now people are batshit crazy so you don’t just get “Oh you shouldn’t write about that.” Now it’s “I’ll bomb your fucking house for writing about that because you’re evil.” I definitely used to go “Who gives a shit? This is fucking death metal, it’s supposed to be fucking brutal. It’s supposed to disgust you.”
I actually remember after To Kill Is Human, one of my favorite reviews it got was basically somebody that trashed it. He spent most of the review listing the subject of each song. Then after that he basically said this album makes him feel bad or something like that. It’s just like, oh man, that’s perfect! I think he gave it a bottom of the barrel review but it wasn’t exactly a death metal mag, it was more like somebody that you’d expect to have that kind of response. The particular way it was put was just like “Yeah, we hurt your feelings. Yes!”
Being a band that’s been around for awhile, you guys have had a few lineup changes over the years. What do you look for in a new member and has that criteria changed at all?
Herb: Somebody that is functional and you can get along with as much as anything is the biggest thing. Obviously you need to be on the same page or similar pages musically and so forth, but there’s lots of talented people out there that certainly cannot be in bands for any number of reasons and that’s a shame and a loss but it is what it is. That’s one of the biggest things and then it’s just kind of, can this person be at rehearsal regularly? Can this person perform? All the usual things. I don’t think that’s really changed. One of the things that has changed though is that there’s a lot more people playing now than there used to be, obviously since it’s been a long time. So maybe there’s a broader pool, so to speak, to choose from if you want to put it like that. Although, I guess this was a decade or so, but when Simon (Dorfman) joined the band when Dario departed, there weren’t a whole lot of people around here that we figured could actually do it that weren’t already occupied in three other bands but that’s usually how it goes when you’re a drummer.
What was your local scene like when you started out? Has it changed much over the years?
Herb: When we were first starting out it was shit cause we were first starting out, again to age ourselves, basically when all the shitty music from Seattle was getting all popular so not many people had too much interest in metal period. Of course, death metal was really new and then a little while later black metal was newer, at least in their contemporary senses, so there wasn’t that much of an audience for it and so shows were sparsely attended. There was a period of time when package tours might not even have had a place to play here, so sometimes they would just skip Seattle. I remember Cannibal Corpse, Brutal Truth, Immolation does Portland and Vancouver and there were plenty of tours that did that for a couple of years. Then, after a while, that started to get a little bit better and then, over time, it’s gotten gradually better and, more recently, it’s probably in the internet age when people can look shit up more easily and so on. The style’s been around for longer and more and more people have gotten used to it. I have people telling me they’ve grown up with the band so it’s like, “Thanks and thanks for making me feel really fucking old too.” It’s nothing but an honor.
Was your second album, Extermination Revelry, a more comfortable process?
Herb: At the time, when we did it, we were blown away with how much better it sounded. In hindsight, there’s still lots of things wrong with it, of course. I think that it’s got some really good songs on it. I like that a lot. It was something that we recorded pretty quickly. Basically, once we started playing with Dario, we made a lot of progress real quickly, which was in part because of how slowly we had been working in the time previous, let’s just say that. There was a bit of a backlog by the time we got working with Dario, who was really on the same page as far as the sort of style we play and wanting to get things produced and created. It was a pretty quick process and we basically kept at it for a couple more records.
Those early albums really set the standard for you guys having very cool and distinct covers. Who does those?
Herb: Basically, all of our main releases are done by Gabriel T. Byrne, who lives doing his art in Germany. He used to live in this area in the early ’90s and played in a band that was around at the time. We were in contact and, I think it was Matt, the drummer on the first record, who approached him about doing a painting for the record because he was also painting. We said sure. We gave him the lyrics, which were essentially mostly done and he put together the ideas and came up with the To Kill Is Human artwork and we, of course, thought it was awesome. When the time came for another piece of artwork, we approached him again. We basically kept working with him. He enjoys working with us and is a fan of us. We’re obviously huge fans of him and his work. We love having it as part of our releases. Pretty much with each successive one, he continues to amaze.
Do you have a favorite cover or is it too hard to pick?
Herb: I can probably identify favorites and that would be Return of the Black Death, Feeding Hell’s Furnace, and Congregation Pestilence.
That third album, Hail Infernal Darkness, is a real classic and has a very confident, sure sound. Were you guys pretty locked in to the process by that time?
Herb: Yeah we were pretty much cranking stuff out by then. We made two albums in pretty quick succession and so when it came time to write more material it ended up being pretty stellar. We were able to get a pretty good sound when we got into the studio, finally. We took a little more time making sure of that. That was also a record that we were kind of (saying) “Let’s throw everything into this.” That’s why there’s so many solos, and lead layers, and things like that that we didn’t use as much on previous albums. I don’t know whether you’d say it was necessarily a conscious thing. That sequence of time, we were pretty much writing, playing around locally, and recording when we had more stuff done to record. We did actually five consecutive records at the Autopsy Room in Tacoma, which is a 45-minute drive away. It’s a comfortable environment so we were just able to basically come up with some of our best stuff. Some of my very favorite songs are on that too, “Genocide Advocacy,” “Hail Infernal Darkness,” “Nightghoul of the Graveyards.” There’s lots of other killer ones too.
I’ve always had a weird fascination with serial killers so I really dug the song “Bind, Torture, Kill.” What made you want to write about BTK?
Herb: Honestly, it was pretty much just that he was a serial killer. It was actually one of the last lyrics that I put together. That was before they knew who he was so it was, at the time, an unsolved one, so that makes it seem a little more sordid and (there were) some pretty sadistic aspects to it.
That album has really become a fan favorite. How gratifying was the response?
Herb: It was certainly satisfying. Obviously we had been pretty underground for awhile, and it had been a slog to get respect in some ways, early on at least. By then, it was nice to see a little bit more of that. It was unfortunate that it didn’t really end up translating into a lot of opportunities for tours or anything like that but that’s how that was.
You had a really quick turnaround time on the next album, Merciless Hammer of Lucifer. How were you able to get that one done so quickly?
Herb: It was kind of in part because we didn’t really have any other tour plans or anything like that. It was like, alright, what else? I guess we write another record. That’s basically what we did. We worked on more songs, and that was a record that we definitely had an organic writing process where everyone was putting in suggestions and we were working things out in rehearsal. We just did more of what we do. I really like Merciless Hammer of Lucifer. I think it’s a great album to sit down and listen to the whole thing because, to me at least, it’s a lot more of a work. Not that any of our other records aren’t, but to me it’s the kind of thing that feels like it should be digested completely rather than, oh, here’s a kickass song. It’s not that the songs don’t kick ass though (laughs).
Do you have a favorite of your records?
Herb: It’s probably Hail Infernal Darkness or Feeding Hell’s Furnace.
How was recording the latest one, Congregation Pestilence? Was that at all affected by COVID?
Herb: It wasn’t really affected because at this point, we basically have got it to a point where we are essentially recording ourselves. A friend of Simon’s helps him get a good drum sound at another place and we basically handle the rest in the rehearsal studio. Basically, the drum tracks were completed right as the pandemic was kicking in. We were also able to take our time to complete the guitars and the bass and the vocals and leads and so forth, and get the mixing and mastering and artwork done. That was a pretty good process. It’s good to actually be able to record in a comfortable situation and it’s nice not to have particular deadlines, per se, where when you’re done, you’re done. We managed to come up with some pretty ripping performances on some really killer songs with some monstrous production and kickass artwork.
So the pandemic didn’t hit the band too hard then overall?
Herb: No, we made the decision pretty early on that we were going to continue. The other option is to not and fuck that. We thought we’re just gonna keep getting together and playing.
How does the process of starting work on a new album typically get started for you guys?
Herb: Honestly, it’s usually a matter of when Kelly comes up with some inspiration to create some new stuff. He’s a pretty creative individual so he’s pretty much creating a lot of times, so that’s pretty much what drives it. Some of the songs on Congregation Pestilence were actually written with the idea of it being released to correspond with our tour of Japan. That was in 2018 so that didn’t pan out like that, of course. That, in a sense, drove the creation of some of those songs but it was also not like, “Alright, gotta write a song.”
I also wanted to ask about the live DVD, Assault of Evil, since I really dig that one. How did that come about?
Herb: The DVD is great and I’m glad we have it. I wish that the circumstances had been a little bit different though. It should have been awesome. The main show was the show that we did here as we left for the U.S. tour that we did then in 2008. The main problem is that we probably, a couple months previously, had an opening slot on a really killer bill, maybe Suffocation or Immolation or something like that, so our show for the tour was under-attended and ended up getting a short set. If I could redo those things, I sure would. Otherwise, there was a team recording the show and so, obviously, you try to be as animated and whatnot as possible. The DVD was part of the Moribund contract, which is the reason it came about in the first place. It’s really great for people that are To Kill Is Human fans because there’s a bunch of old To Kill Is Human live footage. That’s pretty cool.
The Maryland Deathfest set is coming up. How did you guys end up getting added to the bill and how pumped are you for that?
Herb: Incredibly pumped, obviously. We’ve had contacts for quite some time and we were just approached to do a replacement set because of cancellations from the initial lineup. We said alright, we’ll do the fill-in slot. It’d be nice to have a slot that’s not a fill-in, obviously, but you’re not going to say no to an opportunity like that. We’ll be getting to play at Edison Lot too, which is badass. In 2015, we played MDF also, also doing a fill-in. We ended up playing a set at the Ram’s Head that ended up being really badass. We actually played the pre-fest that year too. That was cool. I actually have had tickets for (MDF) since 2020 when they added Dismember, it was no question, no question at all (Ed. Note: Dismember has since dropped out due to their anti-vaccination stance).
Do you still have any big goals or accomplishments on your radar for the band?
Herb: Oh yeah. We’ve really only started scratching the surface as far as playing around the country and the globe, even though we’ve gotten, in the year or two before the pandemic, we made some really good headway with a trip to Japan and a trip to Mexico and a trip to Germany in the span of, I think it was, less than a year. All were incredibly awesome, amazing times for various reasons. Obviously there’s so much more than that. We need to go back and play more than just one festival in Europe. That was a slight disappointment, that we finally got to go and that’s all we got to do for a bunch of reasons. It was still fucking awesome, thank you NRW Deathfest. It was like a big ole party in your friend’s backyard, barbecue and all your metal friends that you haven’t seen in a long time and bands playing. It’s pretty rad. There’s lots more of that to be done. We’ve got more chaos to make. We feel like our best is yet to come. There’s a couple plans.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a band over your career?
Herb: Gotten better, gotten tighter, gotten better musicianship. One of the things I’m pretty proud of is that we’re one of the bands that hasn’t pussed out and slowed down as they age. That’s always been kind of important to me so that’s something I’m really stoked about. I think we feel like there’s lots that can be done with our own little death metal paradigm, if you will. We don’t necessarily have to introduce a lot of other nonsense to still make things that are interesting and new enough, at least. It’s not like, “Ok, heard this. What’s next?” We don’t have that going on.
I also wanted to ask about your involvement with Plague Bearer. You guys put out the EP, Rise of the Goat, in 2006 and then some compilations more recently. What’s the idea behind keeping that one going alongside Drawn and Quartered?
Herb: Other than the origin of Drawn and Quartered, Plague Bearer kind of lived on after that as a side project. Initially there was some material recorded that was, for lack of a better description, sort of black metal stuff that wasn’t fitting into the early Drawn and Quartered. Then the material that became the Rise of the Goat EP, that was kind of sort of an outgrowth of “let’s jam together with Kelly and Mike,” the drummer that was on that recording. Then some other folks, myself included, were brought in to wrap that up. That was pretty fun because we did it at Autopsy Room. We kind of went in, said fuck it, and had no preconceived notions. We just had fun, did some cool sounding stuff, and it was really cool. Then, a few years later, it came out as the seven-inch.
Plague Bearer kind of languished then until more recently. It was reconstituted with the drummer that Kelly had played with in the first post-Drawn and Quartered incarnation. Some of the material that was written then was on the comp CD, and the forthcoming album release with another friend of a friend of ours, Nihilist, on vocals, so we kind of have a double vocal onslaught for maximum chaos. We’ve been doing that. We’ve actually done live performances, which is the first time that band has performed live since 1993 or at least a band under that name, I should say. There is a full-length album recorded and on its way out, I think it’s supposed to be in upcoming months, although with things the way they are these days, who knows. That’s basically the material we are playing now, recorded with the current lineup. It turned out sounding killer, an awesome sound. We’re actually working on newer material as well, which is kind of the first new Plague Bearer material in many years and that’s turning out killer. I’m pretty enthused about when we’re able to get to the point of busting some of that out in recorded form.
Was it a different type of challenge to record that stuff or pretty similar to the Drawn and Quartered process?
Herb: It was pretty similar, to be honest. We recorded it under pretty much the same circumstances in the rehearsal space. The main difference is just working with another person on vocals but that was just something to me that was fun, bouncing ideas off each other. We’d done that a little bit before when we did the Vetus Obscurum project some years further back. It was a cool situation.
How important is it to you to be able to express your creativity in different ways with different projects?
Herb: It’s fantastic. I can see why people are inclined to do it and if I didn’t have to have a job and a life and so forth, I would probably have many more but it’s also nice to have a night home once in a while. I’ve got that and there’s a couple other projects that Kelly works with too. We’re definitely keeping busy and spreading it around.
What was it like to finally get back to live shows then?
Herb: Fantastic. We still haven’t had a live Drawn and Quartered performance yet. This Maryland Deathfest and Northwest Terror Fest that we’re playing around here after that, those will be our first. We did have a live Plague Bearer performance last summer and of course that was fucking awesome to get back and do that. The show itself was a slightly different story but that’s how it goes sometimes but it was great to be back playing live, for sure.
How current do you stay on what’s going on in the world of death metal? There are so many bands that it’s kind of hard to keep track of it all at any given time.
Herb: It depends. I pay attention to the underground. Now, like you said, there’s so, so many new things that are coming out so it’s pretty difficult to keep up with everything, but if there’s something that I hear to check out, I’m gonna. I maybe don’t seek out so much death metal since I spend so much time playing it, and so I maybe want to listen to something else once in a while, but I still love hearing new, sick death metal bands playing that style. I’m definitely someone who’d rather hear older school stuff than a lot of what’s coming out now. In my opinion, there are fewer and fewer bands that take that approach. That doesn’t mean that bands that don’t suck but I guess as people get older and grow up with more variety to start with, there’s gonna be less of that playing with this sort of style.
For fans who want to show Drawn and Quartered their support, what’s the best way to do that
Herb: Come to the shows, buy the merch, if you’re one of those social media types, probably do all that stuff. We are on Bandcamp, you can find us there. Go out to shows, support the bands, that’s the best thing you can do because nowadays, the music industry, such as it is, it’s pretty much done. Unless you’re massive and have a massive amount of dollars behind you, you’re pretty much making money by playing live and selling merch. Support that if you want to support Drawn and Quartered and the underground metal community.
How big has that community support been to you?
Herb: Oh huge. We’ve had, since kind of the very beginning, a lot of contacts around the world that have helped support Drawn and Quartered and it’s only kind of grown. Without the underground, we’d be nowhere. There’s still people who are learning who we are and we’ve been around for ages now. I’m sure that’s the case for lots of bands that don’t have the publicity and big money tour support.