If you love death metal, you probably love Terry Butler, whether you know it or not. You can’t be a fan of the genre without liking Massacre, Death, Six Feet Under, Obituary, or Inhuman Condition. One, or all, of those bands has definitely been in your rotation at some point if you dig the genre and Butler has lent his talent on the bass to each of those bands over the years. In the pantheon of great death metal records, Butler finds himself doing more than his fair share of work on a multitude of them.
With such a strong catalogue under his belt already, Butler is wasting no time resting on his past accomplishments. As if putting out classic death metal releases with Inhuman Condition and Obituary weren’t enough, Butler is preparing to hit the road with his new band, Left to Die, to play classic Death tunes to the eager masses. I caught up with Butler last month to talk about his career at the epicenter of the death metal explosion.
First off, how did you end up getting into music and then how did you become a metal fan?
Terry: I had an uncle who was about ten years older than me when I was a little kid. When I would go to see my grandmother, he would always be blasting Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, and show me all these cool things. Early on I was given a pretty good dose of hard rock and everything and I just love that side of music, you know?
How’d you get into playing bass?
Terry: I actually loved the guitar when I was a kid. I wanted to be Ace Frehley. Even though I thought Gene Simmons was the coolest looking member, I wanted to play guitar [laughs]. Later on I just kind of gravitated toward bass. I bought a bass and the position came open in Massacre. My best friend, Bill Andrews, was the drummer and I was at every Massacre practice also. He called me up and said bring your bass over, we need a bass player. That’s how it started.
Yeah how exciting was it to be down there in Florida for that huge death metal explosion?
Terry: It was amazing. Heavy metal in general was just getting going and then it just got a little darker and heavier with Welcome to Hell from Venom [and] the first Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, Hellhammer, these kind of bands that just started getting darker and heavier with lyrical content dealing with horror and Satanic things which, as a 14-year old kid, that’s completely awesome [laughs]. It was just an evolution. Down here we had a couple cool record stores and a couple cool bands like Savatage and Nasty Savage. When we were kids we would go see those bands play and we wanted to be like them. Then Show No Mercy came out and we [said] “Ok, I want to be like that. [laughs].”
How’d you end up getting hooked up with Death to do the Spiritual Healing album?
Terry: I joined Massacre and it had been going for a couple years, put out a few demos. In Massacre, Bill recruited Rick Rozz, who was in Mantas and Death, and Kam Lee, who was in Mantas and Death, to be in Massacre so that’s kind of where the Death connection came. There was a show, I think it was a Megadeth show, in early ’87 that we all went to. In fact, Massacre was supposed to open the show but we got bumped off of it. During that time, Rick ran into a mutual friend of Chuck [Schuldiner]’s who told him that Chuck was back in town to Orlando from California and he didn’t have a band. Rick started to put two and two together and said he would go talk to Chuck and see if Bill and myself could join Death. It worked out.
We got together and did a practice or two and it clicked instantly so Massacre was kind of put on hold while we were in Death. That’s how I was in Death for about three-and-a-half years. We did tour for Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy and Spiritual and I helped write some of the Spiritual album and things just kind of fell apart between the Spiritual Healing tours so we just kind of joined back up with Rick and Kam. We called them up and said “Let’s get Massacre going again. Let’s record all the old songs and put an album out real quick.” Those songs were the From Beyond album. They sounded great and there was good production and it kind of took off. Then we did another recording, an EP called Inhuman Condition and once again, the band split up [laughs].
How did you end up with Six Feet Under then?
Terry: Allen West contacted me in about 1993, he had a side project and he wanted me and Bill Andrews to play on it and he sent me a demo. There were like four songs and I listened to them and they were pretty cool and catchy, but then I didn’t hear from him for about six or eight months and then my brother-in-law, Greg Gall, he’s a drummer, he called me up and said “Hey, I’ve been jamming with Allen with some tunes that are really cool. Why don’t you come over and check them out and put some bass to it.” I went over there to Greg’s house and it was those same songs that were on the demo that Allen gave me so I was kind of familiar with them. I was like “Hey, dude, I never heard back from you!” I just started jamming with those guys and that’s my introduction to Six Feet Under early on.
What was it like to record that first one with Six Feet Under, Haunted? You’ve got albums under your belt with different bands at that point so when you went in to record the debut, was it pretty similar to those experiences or something new?
Terry: It was pretty similar. I love that album; it’s a great album. To me, that’s kind of what Six Feet Under were meant to be, that Haunted album. It was great. We worked with Scott Burns, he produced it and he’s very familiar to all of us. We all recorded with him and it was a great process. I think it turned out really well and it was a good experience for sure.
How did you end up with Obituary then later on?
Terry: I’ve known those guys since probably 1985. They were neck-and-neck with us and Massacre back in the day, putting out demos and playing shows around here, so we all know each other. I filled in in 2010 when Frank Watkins was released from the band and they had a tour set up. They called me up and said “Hey, you’re the first choice, the first guy we thought of, do you want to do this tour?” I was like, absolutely, and did some touring with them and it just clicked, it was awesome. The writing was kind of on the wall for me with Six Feet Under, I had kind of reached my end with that band so I called the Obituary dudes up and said “Hey, I’m offering me and my services full-time. I’d like to be a part of the band. They were like “Hell yeah, come on!” That was February of 2011 that I joined them full-time but I’d been helping them for about a year before that.
What was it like to get to record that first album, Inked in Blood, with the band?
Terry: It was great. It was kinda similar to the Six Feet Under style as far as genre, that groovy kind of death metal stuff. It was familiar and we recorded it at their house, which we would jam at all the time, so it was very familiar surroundings. I was very proud to record that first album with them, such an iconic, classic band. To be part of that was great.
Everything I’ve heard about Obituary makes it seem like they are the most easy going guys to work with.
Terry: They definitely are. It’s the coolest band I’ve been in. We all get along great. We all have a voice. We all have an opinion. It’s run like a business and everyone is part of that business and it’s great.
How’s the new Obituary material for the new album coming?
Terry: It’s been written and recorded for almost a year now. It’s totally done. We got all that together during the pandemic so we’re ready to go and it’s gonna come out, probably, at the beginning of 2023. We have a huge tour we’re announcing and it’s gonna coincide with that tour. It’s awesome. It’s ten songs, very heavy and aggressive. John [Tardy] sounds completely evil on it. It’s the best I’ve heard his voice and Ken [Andrews] shreds on it as usual and Donald [Tardy] is killer on it. Everyone does a great job on it. I can’t wait for it to come out.
What’s the writing process like in the band now?
Terry: Anyone can contribute. If you’ve got a couple riffs or whatever, you just show it to the guys or whatever and we might slow the riff down, pass it around, and everyone puts their parts to it and kind of work it out.
You guys have had two pretty big tours in 2022 alone now with the Decibel Tour and the Redneck Run. How nice was it to get back out playing live and headlining shows?
Terry: It was great. We started out late last year with the Black Label Society tour and we slid right in to the Decibel and then the Redneck Run. It feels great. We love doing this, we love playing for the fans. It’s what we want to do. To be cooped up for two years and then bust out and do a lot of touring is like the exact opposite. We love it and the fans seem to love it too.
How much did the pandemic affect the band?
Terry: We were a little bit lucky because we did three or four livestreams and a lot of people participated. That kind of kept us afloat financially, which was amazing. At the end of the day, this is our main job. We make money from it and that’s how we pay our bills and raise our families, so to speak. Those livestreams helped us so much and we really appreciate everyone that participated in that. If we didn’t have those livestreams, it would have been really bad.
I was also curious what it was like to be involved with the band while having a book [Turned Inside Out: The Official Story of Obituary by David E. Gehlke] written about the group. Was that a pretty wild experience?
Terry: Yeah, it was really cool being able to contribute some thoughts and my part of the band was awesome. It was definitely a cool thing.
How did Inhuman Condition get started?
Terry: Jeramie [Kling] and Taylor [Nordberg], the guitar player and singer, were a part of a version of Massacre. Then I heard that they posted they left Massacre for whatever…it always happens with Massacre for some reason. It’s a tumultuous thing [laughs]. I just kind of contacted them to say hey and my condolences and blah, blah, blah. They contacted me and said “Hey, we wrote 14 songs when we were in Massacre; the songs are totally ours. We want to release these songs, would you want to put bass to it?” I said yeah, send it over to me. They sent me the songs and I listened to them and was blown away. I couldn’t believe that someone would not want to be part of this so I put the bass on it and it kind of steamrolled and took off to where in a short amount of time.
It just took off and became a band. We recorded 14 songs and we put nine on the first record. We had five sitting there and we recorded four more songs and that’s the second album, which is gonna come out in July. It’s ready to go. All of us were in Massacre at some point and we figured why not call the band Inhuman Condition? I wrote that song for that EP in Massacre, so it kind of only made sense to call the band Inhuman Condition. We used the font from Inhuman Condition. Some people want to say it’s more Massacre than Massacre but that’s up to them [laughs].
Do you use the same cover art guy that did the old Massacre stuff? The style is very similar.
Terry: No, that was Ed Repka. He did Death and Massacre and countless other bands. The guy that did this, Dan Goldsworthy, he’s done some other [albums]. He did the Corpsegrinder solo album cover. He did a killer job, definitely and we wanted that style, that feel. The music is death, thrash metal kind of. It’s a slice of 1988 Tampa so that’s the vibe we wanted.
What’s the writing process like for Inhuman Condition now that you’ve finished up the second one, especially since that first one was pretty much written?
Terry: Most of the first and second album were already written but the writing process is the same. If you’ve got a cool riff, let’s hear it and jam it out. Everyone has a say and everyone can contribute, for sure.
What can fans expect from the new record?
Terry: The same kind of brutality, just straight-up, no-frills, old-school death metal if you want with a little bit of thrash thrown in there. Classic like ’88 kind of material. That’s the kind of music we love and grew up on and we want to play.
How happy were you with the first album when you finished it and heard it back?
Terry: Oh I was blown away. The riffs are just amazing. Taylor wrote some incredible riffs. It’s just chock full of riffs. It’s great and I’m very proud to be part of it. It’s catchy and the production is great. Jeramie did a great job on the production. It was well received and that was great. I love it.
So then the newest band, Left to Die, how did that get formed?
Terry: There was a Death tribute thing put together in Tampa here last year, it was called Living Monstrosity. It was me and James Murphy and Matt [Harvey] and Gus [Rios] from Gruesome. Out of the ashes of that, Rick posted a question, “Who wants to see a Leprosy tour” and it just kind of steamrolled. Matt and Gus were on board and they asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I said sure, I think it would be pretty great. It quickly took off and we got tour dates set up and we got artwork and everything. We’re gonna do the whole Leprosy album and we’re gonna do four or five songs from Scream Bloody Gore. We’ve got some killer opening bands for the tour and it took off really fast. That’s part of the whole Death legacy, people want to see it. You’ve got two former members in this tour so that’s cool.
How important is it for you to be a part of keeping that legacy alive?
Terry: I think it’s great because Death is a very important part of death metal. People say it’s one of the founding bands of death metal and I agree. Without Death at all, I think it would be a totally different landscape in the death metal world. Obviously Chuck passed on, he can’t be there but you know, Rick wrote a good amount of music on Leprosy, his stamp is on that album. I was there for that tour and I was in the band at that time back in the day, so you’ve got two people in the band who were there back in the day so that’s something at least.
I read that the band is also working on an EP. Is that right?
Terry: Yeah we originally were going to try but because of all of our schedules, there’s no time to sit down in a studio and write some songs so we’re just going to do the tour but we are definitely going to write some music. We are approaching this as a band, but right now we just kind of wanted to honor the album Leprosy and do the tour.
What kind of a challenge is that for you to try and write music that is obviously your own but is also in the same vein as Death?
Terry: It’s definitely going to be a challenge. You want to write something that sounds like it should be called Left to Die in the death vein but you don’t want to write something that sounds exactly like it, but you don’t want to write something that sounds like Slayer or that sounds like Obituary. We’ll definitely try and make it original but in that same family as Death.
You’ve always been someone that’s got a few bands going at any given time. Is that ever a struggle to find time for it all?
Terry: Yeah, definitely, absolutely. A lot of the times my wife hates it [laughs]. Like I said before, it pays the bills and I get to create some killer music on top of that. I’ve been fortunate to land in a lot of cool bands. I’ve been around for a while so I’ve got that name that’s synonymous with some of the more classic death metal bands, which is awesome. I love that. I don’t take it for granted but it definitely can be a bit of a struggle. You gotta write everything down on the calendar so that nothing overlaps and triple check things as far as conflicting dates.
How important is it for you to have those different creative outlets and that variety?
Terry: It’s cool because Left to Die and Obituary are gonna sound the most different and Inhuman Condition is mixed right in there. It’s cool to have those outlets because you can switch gears. It’s like, “Ok, now I’m in the Obituary mode for this tour” and then you get a week off and it’s like “Ok, gotta go over the setlist for Inhuman Condition. I gotta relearn these songs.” You get a lot of different rhythms flying around in your head so you have to focus in on it for sure.
Do you have a favorite album that you’ve played on?
Terry: I mean, Spiritual Healing is always going to be right up there because helping to contribute to that album and helping to write with Chuck and the band in general [was great]. From Beyond and how it came to be out of nowhere, I’m very proud of that. Like we talked about, Haunted, I think that’s a great album, I’m very proud of that. Those are definitely some of my top ones there. Rat God as well, just how that one came to be. Like I said before, I’m pretty fortunate to play on some really cool albums and it’s awesome.
How up-to-date do you stay on death metal?
Terry: It’s tough. Everyday you’ve got 20 new albums coming out from bands I’ve never heard before. I’m not one of the guys that know every new band from some demo band in Des Moines, Iowa that just put out a demo. There’s people that know all about that but that’s not me. I’ve got so much going on. I get to hear new bands when I tour with them mostly…200 Stab Wounds, Enforced, these kind of bands. I try to listen to what I can.
To you, especially since you’ve been in it since the beginning, what has the evolution of death metal looked like in your opinion from the start till now?
Terry: You listen to the Mantas demo or the Possessed demo or Seven Churches, the first album from Possessed, at the time I was like “Oh my God, this is so fast and so heavy” but in 2022 you listen back to that and you’re like “Ok, that’s slow as hell!” but at the time it was fast [laughs]. Everything always gets faster and darker and heavier and more evil, that’s just natural and how it goes. Blast beats weren’t even a thing back then. That was more of a punk or hardcore thing. It just floated into death metal through Napalm Death and D.R.I. Musically, that’s the difference. Attitude wise, it’s kind of the same. Death metal is always gonna be the ugly red-headed stepchild, so to speak, nothing against red-headed people or stepchildren, but you know what I mean. It’s the bastard of music still to this day but whatever. That’s the biggest difference to me and all these sub-genres now. I can’t even begin to name how many “cores” there are but that happens with everything. Something starts out and you get a bunch of evolutions of it and eventually, whether it’s grunge or rock or jazz or whatever, it’s all different.
Have you ever had any interest in playing outside of extreme metal?
Terry: Well, I mean, if I did, it would be hard rock. I love the ’70s hard rock. Thin Lizzy is my favorite band so Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep, UFO, that’s my favorite kind of stuff. If I ever chose to do something different, it would be in a band like that. If someone is looking for country or rap, that’s not gonna happen.
Photo at top: Album cover for Inked in Blood by Obituary.