Saying you like metal tells someone as much about you as saying that you like fiction books or long movies. It narrows it down to the art but leaves a lot of room for guessing on the particulars. Do you like death and hate metalcore? Does black metal float your boat while thrash leaves you bored? Metal is a pretty wide umbrella with a lot of different genres and subgenres making up the unique tapestry that is the greatest form of music known to man. Slam metal, a subgenre of death metal, has always had a strong appeal for me. The mid-tempo rhythms, the breakdowns, the guttural vocals that sound like the vocalist is being ripped apart from the gut, all that is extremely my shit. If you’re looking to trace the roots of slam, look no further than originators and masters of the craft, Internal Bleeding.
For more than 30 years, Internal Bleeding has been chugging out classic slam albums and tracks in a genre that they pioneered way back in the ’90s. Through changing trends in metal, lineup shifts, various music industry upheavals, a 10-year gap between albums, and a global plague, Internal Bleeding has stood the test of time and is not slowing down any time soon. Fans of the band have a variety of things to look forward to, including a new album on the horizon and plenty of chances to bang your head to the New York five-piece live as they trek across the country. I caught up with Chris Pervelis (guitars) to talk about the band’s history, its place in the genre, and what the future holds for Internal Bleeding.
First off, how did the band originally come about? Chris, you’ve been with the group since the beginning. What’s kept you with this particular band for so many years and what’s kept the creative fire burning for you?
Chris: Well, after my band Autumn Reign fell apart, I was looking to put something much heavier together. It took a while to get it off the ground because the people I had tried jamming with weren’t syncing to what I wanted to do, and our personalities didn’t match. Then I finally met Anthony Miola and Bill Tolley, and things finally began to click. I got Autumn Reign’s original singer back in the band, and one of his friends filled out the bass position, and off we went! It’s been one hell of a ride since those humble beginnings.
As for what’s kept me going all these years? Since I was four years old, I have loved heavy music, and I can’t seem to get it out of my system. Additionally, the band has provided me with incredible opportunities to tour the world, record music, and meet an incredibly diverse amount of people. The only things that complicate things are my age and the natural decline of physical abilities that come with getting older. I have arthritis in my wrists, knees, and hip, making performing live a challenge, but I’ll keep going as long as possible.
When there have been those openings in the past, what do you guys look for in a prospective member of Internal Bleeding?
Chris: Any prospective member must be on board with the band’s vision, which has remained pretty fixed for 30 years. Any prospective member must understand that we’re a band constantly looking to push groove as much as possible. If someone tries out and thinks they will shred and play 6000 note passages, it’s just not going to work out. Furthermore, if you don’t have a sense of humor and are vain or have thin skin, it will not work. We are ruthless to each other; we make fun of everything, mock everyone and take no prisoners with our humor. It can be a harsh environment if you aren’t used to it. Finally, if you’re someone who has cement feet live, you will not make it either. We’re a live band, and sitting still is forbidden.
How did you guys initially get into enjoying death metal and extreme metal as a genre? Who were some of your early influences?
Chris: I think it was just a natural progression for all of us. For me specifically, it was a pretty straight line. I started on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, then when the ’80s came along, I got into hardcore because it was much more aggressive than metal was at the time. Then Slayer came about (I never really liked Metallica or Megadeth, etc.), and I got back into metal. From there, it was pretty easy, Possessed, Death, etc. Next thing you know, it was death metal all the time! Early influences include Sabbath, Black Flag, Public Enemy, EPMD, Led Zeppelin, Suffocation, Morbid Angel, Xecutioner (Obituary), etc.
What’s the writing process like for the music aspect? Has it changed as the years have gone on and the lineup has shifted?
Chris: It has changed quite a bit over the years. We used to jam 4-5 times a week and write songs together in the rehearsal room when we first started. Then, as everyone got older and had to deal with college, work, family, etc., it went to recording demos on the computer and then hashing out the songs at practice. Now that we all live in different places (except for Chris McCarthy and me), Chris and I usually write and record everything, then present it to the band as final songs and tweak things from there. We’ve adapted quite well to this process. Still, it does take longer to get pieces done because we need to jam new songs a lot before we even begin to think of playing them live or recording them. I wish we could jam more than once a month, but that’s just how it is when everyone is over 30 and lives all over the place!
Who handles the lyrics and what’s that process like? Do you have any specific inspirations? What, to you, makes a good Internal Bleeding song from a themes and lyrics standpoint?
Chris: Usually, Chris McCarthy comes up with all the vocal patterns for the songs, then I write the bulk of the lyrics, with Chris and Steve throwing their ideas in and critiquing/changing some things that I wrote. As far as inspiration, it’s usually stuff that I either read about or something that hit me personally. Sometimes someone comes up with a fantastic song title and a theme, and I run with it. What makes a good song? It has to have an engaging, thought-provoking storyline with specific words and phrases that can stick in the listener’s head. We don’t always succeed, but that’s what we strive for with all the lyrics we write. Finally, I know it’s old-school, but we are suckers for repeating lines and verse/chorus parts.
Internal Bleeding pioneered the slam sub-genre of death metal. What were you guys trying to do when you took your sound in that direction? How did you guys develop your own unique sound? How do you feel your sound has changed and evolved over the years?
Chris: We were weaned on a lot of hardcore and hip-hop and metal, and from the outset, we wanted to blend that into the death metal realm. A few bands had ‘mosh’ parts in their songs, but it was never the primary focus of their music. We thought that constant groove and slam should be the driving force of our music. Playing blast beats and other traditional death metal elements such as tremolo picking should only be used to enhance the groove by creating a killer tempo or meter change. Finally, we started pushing the word SLAM because we hated MOSH. Mosh reminded us of Anthrax, and we couldn’t stand Anthrax and didn’t want to be associated with them. I would say it caught on!
Obviously slam has become a pretty large subgenre of death metal. What do you think of where slam is as a subgenre today as well as the current state of death metal? It feels like the genre as a whole is bigger than ever with more bands than you’ll probably ever be able to listen to. Are there any newer bands that you guys have listened to recently that readers should check out?
Chris: I think how far slam has come since the beginning is mind-blowing. It seems to permeate everything now. It’s funny that people looked down at us for calling our music that and not acting “metal,” having short hair, etc. There are a lot of good slam bands out there today. Party Cannon and Vomit Forth are two of my current faves, but there are others. It’s a pretty vibrant scene if you ask me. What’s funny is that many modern “slam” bands and fans don’t even consider us slam, which is downright hilarious.
Out of your albums, do you have one that you’re most proud of and why? You guys have put out a ton of quality records over the years. Has it gotten easier to get what you want to accomplish done now when you step into the studio to record?
Chris: That’s a difficult question to answer. I’m proud of different albums for different reasons. I don’t think there is one album that I am “most proud of,” so to speak. For example, I am proud of our first album (Voracious Contempt) because it took a lot of work to get there, and it was a genre-defining album that people are still trying to copy. But, I am also really proud of the Imperium album because that was our first album back from a long break and was the first album that most critics seem to like. Then there’s the Corrupting Influence album which I am proud of because the music and production are outstanding. So, it’s hard to pick just one album, as you can see. Nowadays, it’s more of a challenge to put out an album because we have an extensive back catalog. We always have to rise to the challenge of moving the ball forward without losing our core sound. That’s a real challenge, and it gets more difficult as time goes on! I think recording is easier, but the work that goes into the song craft is more challenging.
How affected was the band by the pandemic? Obviously the whole industry had a massive change overnight, as the whole world did. Did that affect any recording/live plans for you guys?
Chris: We were supposed to embark on a massive European tour with Cattle Decapitation. Then the entire world just shut down. It completely took the momentum away from the band and the wind out of our sails. I think it depressed all of us. Chris and I couldn’t write a riff for shit. It was horrible. We did make the best of it by developing a Livestream program called “Smoke Sesh,” which was pretty successful and a lot of fun, so at least something positive did come out of it. We were also one of the first bands, along with Deicide, to go forward and be one of the first tours out at the end of the pandemic — that was glorious!
How excited are you guys to be getting ready to go back out on tour again and play for live crowds again? It’s really great as a fan to have live shows to finally look forward to again and I have to imagine it’s thrilling to get to finally plan a live set for real crowds.
Chris: Oh man, it’s such a good feeling, and the shows so far have been great! We’re looking forward to our tour this June with Jungle Rot, plus we have a lot of other shows lined up starting this month! The entire band is looking forward to getting out there and seeing a lot of new and familiar faces. Very exciting.
In regard to live shows, how do you guys put together a setlist? You’ve got a ton of material to choose from, are there songs that you feel like you have to play each time out and are there any that you haven’t played in awhile that you ever want to bring back?
Chris: Usually, Chris McCarthy suggests a setlist, then we argue about it for two weeks until we agree on something. We know what works and try to stick to what the fans want to hear. Plus, we try to throw in some material that we think may not be the most popular from our catalog but selections we enjoy playing. We have a massive backlog of songs we’re going to bring back; it’s just that we need the time to jam them and get them into the setlist.
Lastly, what’s next for Internal Bleeding outside of the upcoming tour? What can fans look forward to over the next few years?
Chris: Well, first and foremost, we’ll get our next album, Settle All Scores, released. We’re finally almost done writing it, and it will see the light of day in a year or so. Besides that, expect nothing but relentless live performances that get the crowd moving!