Morbid Angel have been a huge force in heavy metal since the late Eighties, peaking critically and commercially with the albums they recorded between 1988 and 1995 with David Vincent as their singer and bassist.
Uniquely among bands of the death metal persuasion, they transcended their niche, becoming the first band of their genre to sign to a major label and tour the planet.
Vincent, who served two tours of duty with the group, the second of which lasted from 2004 to 2015, now has several outlets - a rockabilly band called Headcat in which he replaced the late Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, a solo career as an outlaw country artist, and two extreme metal bands, I Am Morbid and Vltimas.
The latter, pronounced Ultimas, recently unleashed a truly stunning debut record, Something Wicked Marches In, on which the trio - Vincent plus sometime Mayhem guitarist Rune Eriksen and drummer Flo Mounier of Cryptopsy - deliver a blistering melange of riffs and roars.
The big question for us is where the bass guitar fits in to this uncompromising wall of sound, so let’s jump into the pit and ask Vincent how it all meshes together.
How did Vltimas come about, David?
“I’ve been friends with, and a fan of, Rune for a number of years. I knew him when he was in Mayhem; he always had a really interesting touch. In my mind, he almost single-handedly defined a particular guitar style as it relates to what we would consider Norwegian black metal.
“We had hung out a bit over the years, and he called me out of the blue and suggested that we should get together and make some music some day. I replied ‘Why is that day not today?’ He already had this idea put together with our label, Season Of Mist, and he and Flo had started working on some music. The guys came out to Texas and we started putting some music together.”
You’re in Texas, Rune lives in Norway, and Flo is Canadian. How did you make it work?
“Obviously that’s somewhat of a hindrance, not to mention the fact that everybody has busy schedules. It would be easier if everyone lived two doors down from one another, as opposed to in multiple countries, but we managed to make it work.
“We recorded the album in England and we’re super excited about it. I wrote the lyrics and the other guys came up with the music. Rune had lots of stuff; he’s a riff machine and will just keep going and going. There’s an abundance of material. We’re virtually ready to record another album.”
Describe the music for us.
“It’s full of all kinds of energy. There’s not a single song on it that I’m not 100 percent comfortable with. There’s a fair amount of diversity there, too. Our producer, Jaime Gomez Arellano, is originally from Colombia but lives in Woburn in England, where we recorded the album. He did Ghost’s first record, and he did a number of things with Paradise Lost and Sunn O))), and he’s really into analogue equipment.
“The only thing sampled on the album was the kick drums, which you pretty much need to do with anything that’s fast. Everything else is natural, with actual guitar amps.”
What gear did you play on the album?
“I play my signature Dean bass, the Demonator. Sometimes things just work, and Dean basses have worked well for me for 20-some years. Dean have also made me some nice hollow-body basses with a traditional body shape for the rock stuff that I do.
“My main effects unit is a Jim Dunlop M80 DI, which has an EQ and drive and a few other little tricks as well. I showed the designer how I set it, and he said ‘I never intended it to be used that way, but I totally see how it works when you do that’. I swear by that thing. That’s pretty much it; I get my front-of-house sound through it, and the amps are just for the stage sound.”
How does the bass fit into extreme metal?
“I’ve always viewed bass as a tool for bridging the gap between the drums and the guitar. Sometimes it leans a little more towards one or the other, depending on the particular part I’m working with, but getting it to have a voice of its own is more difficult.
“It’s always easy to overplay, especially when you have a drummer who is overplaying - but that’s the style. Listening to the backbone of a riff, which may be the kick drum or it may be the snare in certain places, is useful, but there are no rules in music whatsoever. That’s one of the reasons why I play lots of different styles of music.”
Is there ever any room for soloing?
“Where appropriate you can step out, but the fundamentals have to be there. If the music is as extreme as ours, you have to find something that is appropriate rather than trying to jam something in there. There’s a lot of things not to do. Essentially, I try to look at it as a painting. Where does it need to be blue? Where does it need to be red? What colours need to be where in order to complete the spectrum?”
Will Vltimas be touring?
“Absolutely. This is the most lush, Wagnerian, misanthropic soundtrack you’ve ever heard. It’s really clear, so there’s no mistaking what I say, with or without a lyric sheet. It’s loud and proud and there’s nothing bashful. I love this record and I can’t wait to get on stage with it. See you on the road.”
Something Wicked Marches In is out now on Seasons Of Mist.