by RS Frost
Formed in 2009, Brisbane’s DISENTOMB have reached great heights within the realm of death metal and continue to grow as a band and a brotherhood, placing value on friendship and shared experience above all else.
The origins of Disentomb can be traced back to 2006 when Jake Wilkes (guitar), Henri Sison (drums), and Jordan James (vocals) were playing in death metal band WOUNDS OF DECAY. The band changed their name in 2008 to CADAVERINE and released a demo in the same year called ‘Brisbane Death Metal’. In 2009 Cadaverine disbanded and the trio went on to form Disentomb.
At the band’s recent album launch show in Melbourne, both Jordan and Henri mentioned that the formation of Disentomb boiled down to one thing; three mates who were simply obsessed with brutal death metal.
With their latest album, ‘The Decaying Light’, recently released through UNIQUE LEADER RECORDS, I caught up with Jordan to discuss the band’s current state, upcoming touring cycle, and to take a look back on the roller-coaster journey that has led them to where they are today.
- Jake and I have been friends since we were about seven years old. We went to the same primary school together in a town of about 3,000 people. We have always been super close and when we reached around 12-13 years old we both started listening to metal, then eventually death metal. When we were about 15 Henri moved to our small town and he had already been introduced to death metal at that stage, so we naturally gravitated towards each other. It was a super interesting experience to be in a small country town with no local influences on our playing, just what we had bought on CDs or downloaded on Limewire.
I’m curious as to what these early influences may have been?
- We grew up in Nanango, so typically for people our age it started with KORN and SLIPKNOT and then eventually MORBID ANGEL and CANNIBAL CORPSE. I guess the big game-changer for us was discovering DISGORGE (US).
What was the local climate like for extreme metal back then, and what were you guys aspiring to achieve as a band, if anything?
- There really wasn’t any pressure on us at the time. We literally lived in a region where there may have been two or three other bands, so we weren’t really aware of the climate. Our taste for death metal just focussed on the more extreme end and eventually, we discovered brutal death when we were 17. Looking back, I don’t think we had any real aspirations other than to play a show. We wanted to eventually tour and all that, but I just don’t think we ever saw that as realistically being on the cards. A lot of it just came down to focusing on what’s next.
In August of 2009, Disentomb released a two-track demo, establishing the band name and making it very clear that brutal death metal was the name of the game.
How did these songs come together and what was the plan for this first release?
- Our previous band, Cadaverine, existed alongside Disentomb for only a few months. Henri, Jake, our original bassist Tom, and I wanted to do something heavier, in the vein of brutal death rather than straight-up death metal. We wrote those two tracks for the 2009 promo in a jam room once we were done with Cadaverine’s session. I still remember the first Disentomb band practice at Studio 454 – it’s now a block of apartments – but I remember thinking, “this is exactly what I’ve been looking for”. We recorded with our mate Joe in his bedroom and pressed 500 CDs and sent them out to EVERYONE. We made sure our favourite bands had copies, we asked all the underground labels to put them in their order packs for free. We just wanted as many people to hear our music as possible.
The following year saw the release of the band’s first full-length effort, ‘Sunken Chambers of Nephilim’. This 10-track album has a run-time of just under 30 minutes and offers the listener almost no time to catch a breath. This album would also establish Jordan as a well-researched, complex and adaptive lyricist and vocalist, tackling subject matter such as apocalyptic musings, overtly anti-religious in nature, that deal with specific Biblical-tinged fables expressed through a narrated-style of vocal delivery that fits with the music.
Track titles like ‘Purity Severed by the Antediluvian’ and the album title itself suggest a keen interest in religious history and mythology. I’m curious as to where this interest comes from and what level of research is conducted before you write lyrics?
- I’ve always been fascinated by religion and I think a lot of that stems from attending a Catholic school when I was younger. I’ve never so much been interested in writing lyrics related to gore or the blatant anti-religious themes of DEICIDE. Morbid Angel has been a massive influence on my lyrical themes; these stories with biblical references mixed with my own made-up mythology. For ‘Sunken Chambers of Nephilim’, I did research for the lyrics, and as I said before, combined biblical references with other mysticism. I always start with a song title first, and then build the story/scenario from there.
This album acted as a spring-board for Disentomb as it was widely circulated and provided opportunities for the band to enter the Australian touring arena. I recall seeing the band for the first time in 2012 as support for Cannibal Corpse and PSYCROPTIC and was blown away with the insane response this band was getting from the crowd as an opener. Do you have any recollections of this tour?
- Being absolutely astonished at how down to earth, professional, and crushing our idols were. Here we were at the age of 20 supporting arguably the masters of death metal. And then for them to be such great people who came up to us to talk and hang out, we couldn’t actually believe it. That tour did a lot for us, we still have people come up to us and tell us that was the first time they were exposed to Disentomb.
How was the response to ‘Sunken Chambers…’ for you and what did this album do for the band when looking back now?
- It was better than expected. Listening back to it, you can tell we were teenagers, but I have very fond memories and a lot of appreciation for it. The release and interest around ‘Sunken Chambers of Nephilim’ meant we were able to play overseas for the first time and have actual fans of the band. It’s a time capsule of four friends playing brutal death the way their favourite bands did.
The band would spend the better part of the next four years touring relentlessly around Australia with overseas appearances beginning to materialise more frequently.
You guys put a lot of kilometres under your belts early on.
- We did A LOT of touring, trying to establish fan bases in different cities and even playing over in Indonesia. We were just winging a lot of it, but all we wanted to do was play live.
Do any particular highlights from this first album cycle come to mind? Did you run into any overly negative experiences whilst on the road?
- Our first ever tour was in support of ‘Sunken Chambers of Nephilim'. Our bassist Tom bought a van specifically for the tour, so we crammed into this small vehicle and drove about 6,000kms to play a bunch of shows. Three were cancelled; one was because we were bumped off a venue for a poker night. I guess those were negative experiences, but overall it was pretty funny. It’s difficult to get upset about things when you’re hanging out with your best mates.
On October 13th 2015, Disentomb released ‘Misery’ through NEW STANDARD ELITE. This album would go on to become one of the most highly praised brutal death metal albums in recent memory and injected the entire scene with a renewed enthusiasm for experimentation.
With a trinity of expression in music, lyrics and artwork, this album would cement Disentomb’s position as one of the innovators of the genre’s current resurgence and set them on a path that led to
heights the band had never imagined.
What went into the writing of this album, both musically and lyrically, and what were you wanting to say with this effort?
- ‘Misery’ definitely felt like the first proper Disentomb album. We made an effort to solidify a sound we felt was our own. The album was re-written several times until we felt it sounded like us. I definitely think I came into my own as a lyricist and finally got the “vibe” I had been trying for on ‘Sunken Chamber of Nephilim’. An increased focus on bleak themes, less biblical references and more emphasis on building a world of my own with its own beasts, gods and deities.
I think one of the best stylistic explanations I have heard in regards to Disentomb was at your recent show in Melbourne where I overheard someone eloquently describe the music as “the horrendous love child of DISGORGE and ULCERATE”.
- I personally think that’s sick. Both of those bands rule in their own unique ways and if we can combine those two elements of brutality and dissonance while emphasising good song composition, I’m stoked. I’ve also seen someone describe us as “ignorant Ulcerate” which made me laugh.
How would you describe your music?
- It’s brutal death, but there are honestly a lot of elements in there. I’ve been describing it as 'bleakened brutal death’. I think that’s been missing from the genre – emotion. Other bands are outright blasting brutality; we’re just experimenting to make music we think would sound sick.
The lyrics for this album are meticulously constructed. Track titles like ‘Abominations Created Through Divinity’, ‘Pyres Built from Their Severed Wings’, and ‘Forced Adornment of the Funerary Crown’ suggest a consistency in theme but with a more immersive and engrossing approach.
- ‘Misery’ was our first collaboration with the next-level talented artist Nick Keller. Sending him lyrics and song titles and then seeing his sketches for the album cover and booklet helped me expand my scope on building this bleak world abandoned by gods. There are definitely overall themes, but each song is its own little story.
As mentioned, the visual component of ‘Misery’ was created by artist Nick Keller and is one of the most iconic death metal album covers from the past decade. How did you come to work with Nick and what amount of input did you have for the artwork?
- I originally spotted one of his pieces on a Blogspot. All of us in the band are massive fans of the Polish painter Zdislaw Beksinski, and Nick Keller’s work had a lot of similarities. I would send through ideas, song titles and lyrics to Nick and he would send us back sketches. There is no one else who can create art that Disentomb’s music would look like.
‘Misery’ quickly made its way onto almost every metal media review site, with praise and applaud coming from every direction.
Did you expect this album to receive the acclaim it did? What did you think of the album and how did you guys see it sitting within the genre as a whole?
- We felt at the time that we were creating something different, but I guess we didn’t have much in the way of expectations of how it would be received. I think ‘Misery’ is exactly where it needs to be in the overall progression of the band. We couldn’t have written ‘Misery’ without writing ‘Sunken Chambers of Nephilim’ first and there’s no way we could have written ‘The Decaying Light’ without ‘Misery’ coming before it. I’m not sure where it sits in the overall genre; I’ll let brutal death fans decide on that one.
Following the album release, the band once again hit the road and would go on to spend the next five years building on their work ethic and live performance. This period saw tours all across Australia, Europe, and North America as both a headliner and in support of some of the biggest names in the genre.
In March of 2015 I found myself touring alongside Disentomb, in support of GOATWHORE, and recall one particular moment where, after their set, Jordan exited the venue via the loading bay and proceeded to violently eject the contents of his stomach, and ultimately pass out for a short while, in an alley behind the building.
- Hmm, I can’t particularly remember that experience. Was that me? I’ve had a few instances where I’ll overdo it on stage and end up in a sick way afterwards *laughs*.
Can you give me an idea of the touring cycle for ‘Misery’?
- We toured Europe three times, the US three times, Asia and a whole bunch of Australian tours. In support of ‘Misery’, we did close to 250 shows across 45 countries.
You guys played with a massive number of bands during this time, do any of them really stand out for you, as an individual or as a band?
- There were definitely highlights; playing alongside Morbid Angel at Hammersonic in Indonesia, playing with IMMOLATION, and with PORTAL in Sydney. We’ve been incredibly lucky to share the stage with our influences.
Around halfway through this saga came the announcement that long-time bassist Jim Parker (ENTRAILS ERADICATED, CLAIM THE THRONE) would be parting with Disentomb.
With Jim being a known maniac of a guitarist and bassist, and having been with the band for almost five years at this stage, I’m curious if this departure sent the band into a panic considering the current trajectory of success you were experiencing?
- Not particularly. We knew we would miss Jim’s personality, stage presence and skills on tour, but it was a matter of asking ourselves, again, “what’s next?”
The role of bassist would soon be passed on to Adrian Cappalletti (INCINERATED, INVOLUNTARY CONVULSION), a more than capable replacement who also happened to be a guitarist first and foremost.
- Adrian had been attending Disentomb shows since back in 2011/2012. We had talked to him quite a bit over the years and knew he absolutely shredded on every instrument he touches. Given the fact he was an awesome dude, with very similar influences to ourselves, it was a natural fit. Adrian’s arrival in the band has been significant and has completed the band.
One of the things I have noticed in the past five years is that at every metal show I attend across Australia, whether it’s a death metal gig or not, there is almost always someone wearing Disentomb merch. I’ve even seen guys wearing Disentomb shirts, jackets and hats all at the same time.
You guys must all have houses built from cotton by now, no?
- *laughs* We’re thankful there are so many dedicated Disentomb fans. We always try and design merch we would personally want to wear.
In July of this year, Disentomb released their long-awaited follow up album, ‘The Decaying Light’, through Unique Leader Records. This album also features incredible artwork by Nick Keller, offering further ruminations on the end times brought on by, or in spite of, gnostic abhorrence, and boasts further progression towards discordant and atypical songwriting.
The main piece of art for this album is striking, perhaps even more so than the ‘Misery’ cover. How was the process of putting all of these elements together into a stimulating visual package?
- The writing process was a bit different on this one. Jake wrote the majority of the album by himself before sending it to us for re-writes and changes. It was a five-year gap between ‘Misery’ and ‘The Decaying Light’, so we had A LOT of time, perhaps too much time, to mull over it. Now that we had already worked with Nick, I think it was a lot easier for him to create artworks that fit into our style. Everything he made for us blew our minds and exceeded our expectations.
‘The Decaying Light’ was the first album where I combined experiences with mental health into the mystical lore that was used on ‘Misery’. A lot of those lyrics were written in incredibly difficult and trying times, so there’s a lot of emotion in there that some people might not realise. In ‘Indecipherable Sermons of Gloom’, those lyrics are actually about self-doubt, anxiety, and how this manifests itself in a person.
Speaking on the music itself, this album feels like, more than ever, a statement of audible identity. There is very little of ‘Sunken Chambers…’ left here, and ‘Misery’ almost seems “fun” when looked at retrospectively. ‘The Decaying Light’ is the perfect title for this record as far as I am concerned. It is completely cacophonous in its dissonant and jarring nature, with more breathable space on display between the relentless blasting that the band has become known for. The inclusion of Adrian is also an obvious strength to the band’s sound overall, with the bass playing a prominent role in the new material.
- First of all; thank you. You’ve picked up a lot of what we were trying to put down. And as you said, Adrian’s addition to the band was a game-changer for us.
How are you feeling about the response to the album so far?
- Honestly, it has blown us away. We knew before anyone else had heard it that we were happy with it. ‘The Decaying Light’ is the album we had always wanted to write, we just didn’t know how others would react. Considering the number of people that are picking up on the emotional intricacies in the music, the composition and the layout of it all, we’re super stoked.
We have never wanted to write the same album twice, so I think we’ll always try to incorporate different elements into our style of brutal death. From the start we have never wanted to put a ceiling on what we should do, whether it’s in our writing process or how we tour.
There’s not too many brutal death metal bands that can say they have shared the stage with Portal, DEFEATED SANITY, THY ART IS MURDER and now MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE and DEFTONES when we play Download Festival in 2020.
When you were putting this album together, was there an intention to release something different? How do you see this album compared to previous works?
- We let go of all expectations and focussed solely on writing an album we wanted to hear. Rather than thinking “this song needs to be extra brutal”, we just set out to write a Disentomb album.
Disentomb recently returned from the annual Bloodletting North America tour where they performed as the headlining act. This edition of the tour was dedicated to the memory of Erik Lindmark, founder of Unique Leader Records and guitarist and vocalist of DEEDS OF FLESH, who passed away at the end of 2018 from a long-running battle with sclerosis.
How do you feel about being the top-billed band for such a prestigious tour?
- This particular tour means a lot to us because so many of our influences have headlined and played this tour over the years. For us to be the headliner alongside so many sick supporting acts, we’re honoured.
Were you able to meet Erik along your journey?
- Unfortunately no, we never got the chance. We do appreciate the fact he was behind releasing some of the most influential albums in brutal death!
What else have you got planned for the foreseeable future?
- To play music in interesting places to sick people. Hopefully, people will get a chance to catch us along the way.