Obviously, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of extreme metal. Shows have been back in more or less full force for some time now, new albums are getting released, and fans are finally getting to see what bands did with all the forced downtime during lockdowns. More than a few bands have emerged from the mandatory performing break with productive work behind them that they are ready and raring to show off to their fans. Already, it’s been a hell of a year for metal releases and Origin looks to keep that streak going when they drop Chaosmos, their eighth full-length, on June 3.
Origin, who enter their 25th year as a band this year, has been a steady force throughout their career. Originally hailing from Topeka, Kansas, the band has been putting out quality albums of insanely skilled music throughout that time, consistently dropping new records with no more than three years in between releases, at least until the five-year gap between 2017’s Unparalleled Universe and this year’s Chaosmos. Now, with lockdowns behind them and a new record on the horizon, Origin is back on the road supporting Misery Index before headlining their own tour with Abysmal Dawn later in the month. I talked with guitarist and founding member Paul Ryan over the phone before the band played their Chicago show May 6.
First off, what’s it like to finally be back out on the road and consistently playing shows?
Paul: We were on tour when this hit. It’s our 25-year anniversary (and) it’s been 25 months since we’ve played a show, until last night. We have a new album coming out so we played a couple new tracks and had some new jitters that I wasn’t used to having. After a while nothing fazes you but we kicked the cobwebs off and played some old songs, went into some new material also, and it all turned out alright. Everyone is getting used to road life again. We were all a little cozy, we never went six months without a show, let alone two years so lots of creaks in old bones.
How rough was the pandemic on the band?
Paul: All of us found work. That’s the thing. We all got through it, wrote an album through the last part of it. At first, I had to drive all the way back from New York to California. We had a 35-day tour, we played four shows. I mean, I had a great 2020. We did the 70,000 Tons of Metal in January, we did the Central to South America tour in February, starting off in March we had a North America and Canadian run and we did four shows and then we got denied entrance into Canada for our four shows so we were like, “Well, we’ll drive the long way around and get to New York and see where we go from there.” By the time we got to Albany, 13 more shows were cancelled and so we would have only had like 14 more shows and we would have had to drive from New York to Texas and just wait and by that time we were just like, “This ain’t happening.” The singer (Jason Keyser) lives in Albany, New York, the drummer (John Longstreth) lives in New York City, so we left the merch upstate. The drummer got a rental car to go to the city and we drove, the bass player (Mike Flores) still lives in Kansas, and we drove, it was like 23 hours, to Kansas. It was a ghost town. I’m originally from there and it was a blizzard so I got to stay with my family for two more days. Then I drove 35, 36 hours to the Bay Area where I live, and then I got there and everything was shut down (including) my work. So I had nothing to come back to. I remodeled my apartment. I ripped out all my carpet. Idle hands are the devil’s work to me so I redid all my floors, redid my kitchen, redid my closets, so I was busy. I didn’t know what to think. I got through it, we all got through it, and made an album. In 2021, around March, I started writing the album. We got together last week and some of the stuff that was just muscle memory wasn’t muscle memory any more because we didn’t play for so long. Otherwise, we got through it. It’s our second night of the tour, we’re in Chicago at the Cobra Lounge, which is a really cool place. This’ll be our third time here and our 100th time easily in Chicago.
What was the writing and recording process like for the new one?
Paul: Very similar to the other ones. Basically, I write everything guitar-wise and kind of structure it. I will sit there and make phone video clips and then I’ll tie another riff into something. A friend of mine in a band called Ontogeny, Nate Vennarucci, he has a home studio so he helped me build demos to click tracks and then I sent it to my drummer so he could play it too, and my bass player. Every once in a while, my bass player and me would Facetime to go over riffs. He’s jammed with me 21 years now so he’s got a pretty good feel for what I’m doing, just needs to know the notes. Then, basically, we did our basic homework and we got to Kansas about two weeks before we entered the studio. Me and the drummer hashed out all the parts, added parts, wrote more material, and we practiced, the bass player, practiced at night. So, basically, that’s how we have always done it over the last decade. Then we go in there and, after the drum takes are done, we hand the scratch guitar tracks and the drums to the singer and he writes the lyrics and vocal patterns and then, while that’s going on, I track my guitar and the bass and, by the time that’s done, he’s got the songs written and we go in and do the vocals. Then, you know, a couple months goes by and you turn it in and pick the artwork and then you get a release date. Then I flew out to New York City for a video for the title track “Chaosmos,” which will be released Thursday, May 12, on all our socials and Nuclear Blast and all that stuff. It’ll be uploaded to YouTube. It was done by Dave Brodsky, who did a video for Origin, “Finite,” so we just went with (him). The song speaks for itself. We’re just in a room trying to crush it.
How did you decide on the cover?
Paul: There was some disagreement. Some people wanted the word and the artist (to) design to word and I kept searching for art that I thought resembled the title, Chaosmos. I just thought it looked awesome. It just struck me as the right word for me and what I thought of the music and I thought the artwork was appropriate for the title. It was just one of those, “This is right” connections.
I really dig that title, how did you come up with it?
Paul: We’ve always done vowel based things. Abiogenesis is the pre-Origin stuff and then A Coming into Existence, then Origin, Informis Infinitas Inhumanits, then Echoes of Decimation. Then we started going singular like Antithesis, Entity, Omnipresent, then we went double vowel on the last one with Unparalleled Universe. This is the first album we didn’t use a vowel. I’m a huge Carl Sagan guy, I’ve read Cosmos probably seven times in my life. When I was writing this music, I wanted it to be organized but unorganized and I ran across the term somewhere a couple years back and all of a sudden it just popped into my head like “Oh my God, that’s the one.” To me it was, I don’t know if the other guys agreed so much, but I thought it was the word. I just thought it sounds like an Origin title, it’s a play on words, it’s got a cool meaning behind it, and I just felt it matched the artwork as well. I don’t know, I like it. I hope people like it, the album, the artwork. I think it all ties in the same. I feel like it’s just another chapter in the Origin discography.
This is your eighth full-length. With that much experience, is it any easier to make albums or is it more difficult since you obviously don’t want to repeat yourself?
Paul: We gotta be ourselves. Obviously you can’t turn your back on your fanbase but you also have to be the band that you are. I’m a different person than I was 25 years ago, most people are. I’m similar to who I was, I feel (the music) follows suit. I just imagine us like Octomom. Who do you choose as your favorite child out of eight? Well, I love them all for different reasons. If you only have one album, you love that album, you know what I mean? I understand why your newer album might be your more favorite album at the time. I just think it’s the soundtrack of my life. I know how it is when you discover a band. Usually it’s the first two albums you listen to that are your favorites. I never thought that I’d even have this many albums. I knew I loved death metal before I was in Origin and I like creating it. I’m happy to have this long of an established career and that people still like our music. This is the third album with the same lineup so the fans are still out there and people are still coming to the shows. There’s still a demand for it. I don’t write as much, I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. I still play, that’s where I find my peace at is practicing. I don’t even listen to my own music unless I’m playing to it.
Who were some of those big influences that got you into death metal?
Paul: I’ll start from the beginning real quick. I was, like, five and my mom was a drummer, sang, and played piano so I started playing drums and then I was going to play in band, but orchestra started (in) fourth grade and the teachers played Star Wars and I was entranced by that. John Williams is one of the best composers of music of all time so that was what I wanted to do. I dropped the drums, played viola and then, a couple years later, thought this is dumb, I don’t want to do this, I want to play guitar. Guitar is way cooler. Just to kind of give you an idea, when I was six I was Gene Simmons for Halloween and when I was seven, I was Darth Vader so I always had a darker side through my early upbringing.
I got into Kiss and Ozzy and then later Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Dokken, Twisted Sister, and then I heard Slayer and I heard Yngwie (Malmsteen) about the same time. At the time, I was playing guitar and could understand Yngwie because of my classical playing. I couldn’t understand Slayer’s solos but I understood their darker tone and themes and songwriting. So those were early on, then it was Slayer, Possessed, Kreator, Voivod, Celtic Frost, stuff like that. Then I started hanging out with some punkers and they turned me on to Cryptic Slaughter and D.R.I. and S.O.D., and I started hearing Napalm Death, Obituary, Autopsy, Carcass, Deicide, Suffocation and it just got heavier and heavier and heavier. Eventually some of the bands kind of watered it down in the mid-to-late ’90s and that’s when Origin popped off. I just compared Origin to death metal. It’s other people who call it different names so that was one of those things where they started calling it brutal death metal or technical death metal or hyper death metal or deathgrind. When we came in, there was a good amount of buzz for us and it ended up staying all these years. I’m fortunate for our fanbase that people even like this kind of music.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a band from that first album to the new one?
Paul: We’ve been through some member changes. We’ve always been somewhat professional. I feel like we understand the game, know what we do. We’re professional about getting to the show, we try to bring our best effort. No one wants to be the weak link. Unfortunately, we’ve lost some members along the way but the guys in the band now, we all have a symbiosis and an understanding of each other and what needs to be done. We know how to work well together, who needs to drive a shift, who needs to do this or do that. We’re just adults now instead of wild ass kids. Old enough to know better but young enough to still do it in some cases. You gotta have fun doing this cause some days are rougher than others.
I’ve always been curious, how did you get interested in space and the cosmos?
Paul: I was always into sci-fi and thrillers and stuff when I was younger. I was into gore and blood and guts and all that. The religion factor…there were a lot of Satan bands and there were a lot of kill, kill, die die, gross, gross bands. I was (into) Star Trek, Star Wars, all that sci-fi stuff. I had questions about religion, my doubts about the whole thing of it all as an earlier teenager and finding Cosmos and stuff by Carl Sagan reached out to me. It was like, “Oh, Origin started the whole space theme.” Maybe on the extreme side, I wouldn’t say that we started it, but the band that started it all for me was a band called Voivod. It was more of a sci-fi thriller instead of blood and guts, F God, love the devil, you know? There’s a lot of those bands. I was from no coast America in Kansas and was trying to make a name for myself. I felt like Origin is a word that creates questions. It’s also a word where everybody also has their own individual origin. I also felt at the time we were creating something new and the origin of a new form of death metal.
What can fans expect from the new record? Does it sound similar to Unparalleled Universe?
Paul: It’s the same three guys. It’s our longest album to date. It’s like 45 minutes long so it’s longer than any album of any lineup we’ve ever done. I feel like the lineup understands each other and knows what to do better, maybe. I felt like we worked better in the studio. I understand Jason’s lyrical approach better and song structure approach and vocal patterns more so I feel like it’s a natural process of the band growing together as one even better. It still sounds like Origin. I don’t think it sounds like Unparalleled Universe, I don’t think it sounds like Omnipresent. It’s gonna sound more similar to those albums because it’s Jason on vocals than say the ones with Mark (Manning) or James (Lee) on vocals or the one with me on vocals or the one with the different drummer. It’s the same lineup as the last two lineups so it’s a continuation. I don’t know, it’s hard to say because it’s so new, to us even. It’s only our second night (at the time) of playing a couple of these songs live. It’s easy when you’re standing in a room, it’s a lot harder when you gotta get up on stage (with) new nerves and all that. I don’t know if it’s any more or any less technical or any more tricky or if it’s just that we haven’t been playing the songs 300 times in a couple years live. In the early days, the albums were 30-minutes long and we started making longer albums and creating more compositional dynamics, more twists and turns to the roller coaster instead of action-movie-go-fast the whole time.
It’s still Origin and I feel like it checks off the boxes of being Origin and then a couple extra boxes of we haven’t done this before. I try to make it so that it is an Origin album but I also try and make it so it’s not like they push play and get exactly the same. It’s like, Slayer later in the discography and I push play and some people will be like “Oh no man, it just sounds like the same old stuff.” Well, it’s Slayer, it’s supposed to sound like Slayer. I don’t want it to sound like somebody else. Like I said, a lot of people get attached to the first two albums they ever hear from a band and I feel that’s the case with a lot of extreme music anyway. My first two Slayer albums were Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood so those are my two go-tos but that doesn’t mean I can’t love South of Heaven or God Hates Us All. I can go with different eras. That’s the thing about longevity. Like I said, I feel like it checks off all the boxes as an Origin album (with) these are the things that people look for in Origin and if I do the exact same thing then what’s the point of buying a new album? I gotta check off a couple boxes of trying something a little different. It’s not that experimental (though). There’s no clean vocals on it or anything.
Click here to check out the dates for Origin’s upcoming tour. Click here for ways to pre-order or pre-save their new album, Chaosmos, out on June 3. Follow Origin on Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter.