M.S.I. / Mephistopheles


by R.S. Frost

Matthew “Chalky” Chalk has been actively involved in the Australian extreme metal community for 25 years. Having performed with some of the biggest names in the genre, as well as running a booking agency and promotions company, SOUTHERN EXTREMETIES PRODUCTIONS, bringing bands from all over the world to the island nation at the bottom of the globe.

This is the second of two excerpts, taken from a much longer interview, which looks at Mattew’s work with M.S.I., MEPHISTOPHELES and Southern Extremeties Productions.

The first installment explored the formation and early years of PSYCROPTIC and can be found HERE.

At the final Metal for the Brain festival in Canberra, I came across Matthew again, this time behind the drum kit for M.S.I. (MUTILATED SPASTIC IGUANAS for those playing at home). At some point during their set, the crowd was treated to a wrestling match between M.S.I. singer Rick Ring and SKINLESS’ bassist Joe Keyser, resulting in broken glass, a pool of blood and medical attention. A few days later M.S.I. were supporting Skinless at their Melbourne show, with Rick fashioning quite a large bandage.

- There was indeed a wrestling match, it kind of became a thing on the tour – but the injury did not occur then, it was at the Adelaide show, prior to Melbourne. There was… some degree of pain/physical destruction at Canberra, but nothing serious.

How did M.S.I. come about in the first place? - M.S.I. was formed in 1997 by mainstays Rick (GAPE, Ex-BAALPHEGOR) on Vocals and his best mate Tim Ikin (also Gape) on Guitar. They’d been best mates since high school, even born same day, exact same age. Tim had always been into metal, especially heavy/crunchy death metal, he even used to host a radio show many years prior. He never played an instrument but decided, in his late 20s, to finally learn to play guitar, so he and Rick could start the band they’d always kinda dreamed of. And he did! Initially, the line-up was those two and the drummer from Rick’s previous band Baalphegor, Russell Menzies (a.k.a Sin Nanna from STRIBORG) with Brady Denehy on bass. That lasted for three years, and they recorded/released two cassettes and a CD, all full-length albums.

There was a band fracture in 2000, with Russell and Brady departing, and I was asked to drum, along with an old mate of mine Nick Warren (CONTAMINATED, ex-EXCARNATED) on bass. Nick and I were, at the time, doing a rock’n’roll band called THE BLEEDING NOSES, and I’d only just been dabbling on drums for a few months, so this seemed like… a step up! I didn’t even own a double pedal *laughs*. We also had a little project called CHEESEGRATER OF CHASTITY together, but I was just playing guitar and doing vocals, with Nick on Bass and Dave Haley on drums, but that basically stopped once we joined M.S.I. My time in the band was fun; it was a challenge playing drums like that, but I loved it, and it was a great change from just being a vocalist (although I did backing vocals also). Soon after joining, I started busting the guitar out at jams sometimes and ended up writing half the music from that moment onward, which changed the style a bit. We recorded our only released album (with me on it) in 2003, ‘Dream the Serenade’, but it wasn’t released until 2005 (becausewe are slack fucks), but it came in a dual case with a live DVD, something we’d recorded a couple of years later, that better reflected where we were at by 2005.

We did some great tours of Aus, got to play M4TB, the one-off Festival of the Dead (with NEVERMORE etc.) in Sydney, Blood Lust, and a host of other great fests. We supported Skinless nationally, played with DISGORGE (U.S) in Melbourne, twice, and a bunch of other killer bands. It really was mostly just fun. We also started a new album, but only got drums and first guitars laid. It’s sitting there, somewhere, awaiting completion… who knows. So many great memories and crazy nights, legit.

In 2015, after three or four years of virtual non-existence (we stopped jamming and playing and the guys really focused on GAPE once they started that in 2011/12), we called it a day. We had a great two shows (north and south Tassie) to cap off a fun time, woulda been great to do a Melbourne send-off, but that’s that!

Image credit - Alex Gard

In 2009/2010 Matthew was enlisted as the vocalist for SPAWN OF POSSESSION for their Australian tour, alongside MEPHISTOPHELES bandmate Ben Lawless. This tour started in December and finished in January and, if I’m not mistaken, happened at the exact same time CYNIC were on the road, with the two touring parties playing one night after the other the whole tour. - I was actually enlisted months prior, to be vocalist for the band on their upcoming album and any subsequent touring. There’d been a bust-up in the band, with previous vocalist Dennis no longer involved, and they sought me directly as a replacement. The tour was just a coincidental opportunity, and I was already in Mephistopheles so, as Christian Münzner couldn’t make the tour due to other band commitments, I suggest Ben fill in.

We played at the one-off Screamfest event in Sydney, with Cynic and seven other international metal bands. It was the first time ever someone had undertaken such an event, and it was excellent, but unfortunately wasn’t as supported as it should/could have been, and didn’t make it to a second year. But it was great. And yep, we played the fest with Cynic, then both did shows at Billboards (them with ROTTING CHRIST I think, and us with MALEVOLENT CREATION– which I woulda swapped around if it was my choice, us and Cynic seemed RIGHT!) one night after the other. It was a great time, great meeting all the guys in person (we’ve all kept in contact), and was fun to sing their very cool tunes. I’d been a fan since they started, and it was a good match I think. It was hard having only one day of rehearsal, but I think we did ok-ish. I hadn’t sung for a while however, so my voice was a bit rusty. They were all great guys, and I loved every day of that week!

Around the same time as this Spawn of Possession business, Matthew was enlisted as vocalist for Mephistopheles, and would go on to make his recording debut with the band on 2013’s ‘Sounds of the End’.

How did you come to join Mephistopheles? I’m assuming it had something to do with Spawn of Possession? - Nah, sort of the opposite actually. Mephistopheles started when the guys were still high-school age. In 2007/8ish, they were in their final year of College (the same school as their high school), and they’d written this new song (their first album – which I released and did a couple of guesties on – came out in 2006), and Benny (Ben Lawless, guitars) was studying audio and decided to record it as one of his assignment/assessment things. They asked me to come sing on it, I came in, co-wrote the lyrics with Benny (he already had the beginning/rough idea of what it might be about), and I laid the vox, with Benny doing additional vox. That song was ‘The Great Orbs Beyond Our Skies’, which ended up on the first album I did with the band, ‘Sounds of the End’ in 2013.

It was super fun, I loved the result, and the style was different from their previous stuff and really erratic, unique… just how I like it. Anyway, they asked me to join the band then, I’d told everyone after the end of Psycroptic I had no interest in joining another band on vox (at least for a while), so they respected that – but then, after that college recording, it seemed like a good fit I guess. But I still wasn’t ready and said no. In the ensuing couple of years, I jumped on stage with Mepho at most gigs, did one or two songs, plus that one that had been written. Then, in 2009, I actually don’t know the exact circumstances, but the idea of me joining was revisited, and I said yes. We were just writing some new stuff when the Spawn of Possession opportunity came along for Benny, so that went on hold for a few weeks. I was already technically a member of Mepho prior to joining though, which is my main point.

It’s a really organic/weird thing with that band. We sort of write as a full group – myself, Ben, Sam (drums) and Blower (bass) mostly, unless one member is away. We just mess around with ideas, and songs just kinda happen. We try and avoid conventional ideas and structures, that’s really our only influence. Beyond that, any style/idea is viable, and we just go wild with it. I write the lyrics well after the fact, akin to how I’ve always done it – patterns first, lyrics later. But often I’ll try and “feel” what the story of the song might be.

In 2016 the band went on to release a follow-up EP, ‘In Reverence of Forever’. Having read through the lyrics for both the album and EP, it is clear that Matthew has not lost his penchant for epic fantasy and science fiction based ideals within music.

I’m interested in the musical and lyrical themes of the Mephistopheles album and also the ‘In Reverence’ EP, given that the style is almost incomparable to your previous efforts.

- Yeah, so there’s a big connection between the full-length we did together and the EP, in that ‘Sounds of the End’ is about the end of all things, and ‘In Reverence’ is about forever, eternity, salvation etc. It’s meant to be a yin/yang kind of thing; one CD is even black, and the other white. Akin to Psycroptic, there’s also a bunch of hidden meanings, “easter eggs”, and stuff that most people may never figure out. ‘In Reverence’ is my favourite creation I’ve ever been part of thus far, as it really follows the style and weirdness I like. The songwriting was mostly group efforts, as I stated previously, but Benny is a huge part of it because even when we have ideas, he mostly figures out how to voice them. But we tried to make this a really unique piece, and it’s really meant to be listened to as a singular thing. Lyrically, I wanted to bring in a slightly different approach, some lighthearted elements (whilst also having some really heavy ones), but keep with my usual odd-mind creativity exhalation. The whole EP is basically about one guy/entity, R.J Everlife, and various stages of his existence. The R.J even stands for… something *laughs*.

Image credit - Gethin Hill Photography

More recently Matthew has been focusing on his work with Southern Extremeties Productions; bringing international acts to Australia, and in particular to Tasmania. Recent efforts have seen the likes of MESHUGGAH, CULT OF FIRE, ZHRINE and many more grace these southern shores.

- Southern Extremeties was formed in 2006, with the intent to give underground Aussie acts a fresh vehicle for promotion, and so I could release some cool albums essentially. It was mostly a label and distro in the beginning, but as people stopped buying physical media, I got a little disenfranchised, and stepped back from it around 2010, but then reignited my passion a year or two later and really focused on the events side of things. I’d done a lot of events under the SEP banner already, but I wanted to keep on getting bigger and more unique stuff to Aus, so I did.

I don’t care to talk too much about it, to be honest – but I will say this: metal/underground music is my #1 life passion. I love it, it’s saved me, and I am sick of the “industry” stepping in and stealing careers via the hard work of the metal scene. So my primary reason for SEP to exist is to keep bringing excellent, unexpected acts to Aus, and make sure quality local acts get a platform they might usually miss out on AND to employ a bunch of hard-working mates in the process. I wanna take OUR scene back from the scumbags who think making a buck is more important than respect. I’m super happy with some of the stuff I’ve been involved with thus far, and I have a LOT more planned, so everyone… stay tuned!

I’m always interested in any particular standout moments or events for people like yourself who have been in this industry and lifestyle for as long as you have. Have there been any experiences that have stuck with you?

- I have many, MANY, I could talk about this for a long time, but here area few tidbits (once again, in chronological order):

A party gig I played with my first band, HEMLOK, back in about ’96, at our friend Kal’s house. About 30-35 people crammed into this room, it was essentially one huge moshpit, people diving off the staircase (that ran down into the room) and crowd surfing in a room with six and a half foot ceilings. It was insane, so much love and energy and violence in a small space.

My first time performing at the legendary Metal for the Brain festival, with Psycroptic, in 2001. That experience is still an all-time great memory for me. Massive crowd, INSANE reaction, and it was something I’d wanted to be part of for many years, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. Damn, I miss that fest!

There are plenty more great gig moments, but a lot of my experiences the past decade and a half have been as a booker/promoter, and there are some acts I’ve been involved with bringing to Australia that have put forward performances that have just blown my mind. I am very, very lucky to be able to do such things and being able to SEE these bands that I love perform finally is just incredible. It might sound like an odd one, but one of the first bands I worked with that was a great experience to witness was COCK AND BALL TORTURE. Absolute godfathers of goregrind, and they destroyed.

Image credit - Gethin Hill Photography

On the other hand, do you have any particularly tumultuous or negative experiences that you have come across?

- Definitely, and without them, I guess it wouldn’t be a “real” experience, right? You’ve got to have good with the bad, definitely. I guess I could complain about some artists I’ve worked with, but my biggest gripe is the industry as a whole. Metal is its own entity, metalheads OWN it, and we keep the scene alive, and yet the scene has been infiltrated by people chasing a buck. There’s a stack of them making a living from metal, who don’t give a fuck about it, and don’t actually look out for the best interests of the bands. Often I have to deal with these weasels, and it absolutely sickens me.

Having been involved with the industry from various positions, be it performer, booker, promoter, punter etc, how do you see the industry at large and what about it keeps you involved?

- Well, I guess it’s pretty simple to be honest – the music. There is such life within so many musical creations. The creation of art, the manipulation of nothing into something, to create this sonic landscape that inspires and elevates and engrosses, is just beyond words. It has saved me and driven me forward, over and over. I love music, and a huge portion of my listening and passion is in varying forms of metal, and it’s just a really great and evolving scene, like none other. Music is probably the biggest force in my life, and what keeps me moving forward in existence.

Given your time within the extreme metal stratosphere, have you noticed any major shifts in the way the scene, or industry at large, has adapted over time?

- I guess so, but sometimes it’s just the same thing dressed up differently. Currently, there’sa bit of a witchhunt for artists who’re saying/writing about “questionable topics”, and that’s kind of happened before, but the difference previously was that it was outsiders, and now it seems like a lot of people from within the scene who’re trying to shake things up. I don’t mind it, it keeps things interesting, but sometimes I’m not sure if they actually get what metal is all about.

Probably the biggest change is the ability for people to produce their own music, and to a decent standard. There is so much music out there now; it’s hard to wade through it all. Back in the day, you had a handful of standout metal record labels, and you often looked to them to find new stuff. The way things are now is a good and a bad thing in my opinion. It means good bands can get noticed without needing to lick some boots, but it also means the pure volume of what’s out there can become overwhelming, and often great acts still get overlooked. It’s a huge conversation actually, I’m not sure I can dig much deeper now without it expanding into an encyclopaedia-sized creation.

You have reached the end of this installment.