Nowadays we are used to albums that try to recreate a particular style, scene or sound. We are also more or less used to bands that try to do their own thing, trying to find their own character to distinguish themselves from the flock of sheep, with mixed results. It’s not that often that we stumble upon a record that respects that old legacy, with obvious nods to certain bands, but still finding their own personality. I feel like Premature Burial would be one of those.
JM Dopico, the mind behind this album, is no stranger to the underground scene. Already known for his work in bands such as Machetazo, Dishammer, Bodybag or Deadmask, we reached him for a few questions to help us delve into this new work, and the first thing we asked him was what made him embark on a solo project of such a scale after being in so many bands, to which he replied:
“Exactly that was the reason, after playing with so many people for almost three decades I needed to be on my own for a while, I needed a rest doing something totally personal out of any external opinion, influence or scene. These last five / six years have been really frustrating for me about playing in bands, I had enough dealing with people who had different goals, sometimes even opposite points of views to mine, also I got really tired of playing live, too much touring, stupid fests, airports, etc. I needed a break from everything except composing / recording music (I can’t and I won’t stop doing that never), so it was the perfect time for a solo album. The experience was really gratifying and it served as a purge, now I’m back playing with other people again, I’m involved in various projects right now.”
As I was saying before, it’s hard to describe and categorize this work into one style. Is it even necessary? With so much information and the perspective that half a century of heavy music now offers to us, it feels like we need to catalogue everything into this or that label. This urge, that may even affect creativity and breaking new boundaries, was also reflected on this project’s initial reception.
“I wish it wasn’t necessary but I had a real hard time finding a record deal because of that lack of an easy categorization. The musical business wants products that fit an exact trend, wave or public, taking no risks, feeding to the people imitations not innovators. But after some months I finally found the right open minded people, Selfmadegod Recs (Poland) and Vomit Recs (Mexico) releasing the CDs, At War WithFalse Noise (UK) and Home-Dubbed Junks (Japan) the cassette tapes, and BeatGeneration (Spain) the LP.”
Whether you categorize this album in one style or another, many of its influences are clear and bands such as Carnivore, Celtic Frost, The Obsessed, Motörhead, Voivod and even some pure Mercyful Fate heavy metal riffing come to mind. Most of these key influences are quoted in the booklet thanklist, along with many others such as Slayer, Killing Joke, Venom, or more eclectic acts such as Pink Floyd, Entombed, Rush or Dead Can Dance.
“There’s a ton of very diverse influences on this album, just take a look at the list of bands I thank in the booklet, I’ve been listening to lots of very different music all my life, but after all I think everything came from the dark side of my mind, specially cos’ most of the riffs / lyrics appeared on altered states of vigil or oniric encounters. I would describe the album like a container of all my experiences and learnings, and a reflection of a very important time in my personal life. The artwork made by my old friend and collaborator Nor Prego is the absolute expression of it, that phantasmagoric figure coming from the dark with an expression that doesn’t tell at all if it’s coming to scare you, or if it’s scared of you cos’ you finally discovered it!
I always loved albums that step out of the flock, masterpieces like Voivod “The Outer Limits”, Celtic Frost “Into The Pandemonium”, Black Sabbath “Technical Ecstasy” or Entombed “To Ride, Shoot Straight, And Speak The Truth” just to name a few, so I could say that kind of stuff inspired me a lot, not only because of the music itself, more because of that true feeling of ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’, you know?”
I’m not sure if this will help you to get a picture, but I think you can definitely feel where all these different influences come from when you listen to the album, which I would dare to describe as Maryland Doom Rock in spirit, mid 80s thrash, crossover and even some of the more metalized NYHC (i.e. Cro-Mags, Carnivore, D.R.I.) in energy, and Celtic Frost and Motörhead when it comes to raw, stripped down attitude.
The album starts with Back to Zero, which also served as the advance song to promote the album, with its Frost-influenced riffing and catchy chorus. Then we move to a quiet, clean guitar intro with the cracking sounds of an old boat (in the best “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” tradition) that leads to a thrashing riff in one of the heaviest tracks of the album, “Oceanic Burial Ground”.
“Alpha Wolf in No Man’s Land”, a faster song, is the third track and here we see Dopi playing with traditional speed metal riffings and great twin harmonies, with lyrics that may stand as an anthem for this project ambitions and inspirations. Then we are taken to a series of two songs, called “Temperance I & II”. Why and how are they connected? We’ll let Dopi explain it himself.
“Both parts of ‘Temperance’ are like different songs, instrumental overtures before ‘Tombchild’ and ‘Reptile Eyes’. ‘Temperance’ I & II have the same riff by a monolithic distorted bass, slow and deep, some simple notes that try to remind about keeping calm, taking it easy, cos’ temperance must dominate mind and existence. First part is just very ambient-like, opening the gate to ‘Tombchild’, a pure doom rock song about a frequent dream I have about being trapped in my town’s cemetery, where I levitate with the dead around the tombstones dripping my blood to enter the underworld. Second part is like the soundtrack for any day where we’re forced to deal with this human scum society, the percussion invite us to dance with the snakes, we dance with them but with our own beat so we can avoid the bites. Then “Reptile Eyes” starts, a heavy metal thunder with some sci-fi prog thrash touches in the middle part.”.
Indeed, “Tombchild” is a heavy and gloomy song reminiscent of those old Maryland doom rockers, while “Reptile Eyes” is a groovy and headbanging tune. Two of the most interesting songs on this album. “Condemned to the Twilight Zone” is quite different from the rest of the album. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s the power ballad of the album… but it definitely sets a different mood, and makes me think about when those calm bluesy Motörhead songs would pop here and there in many of their albums. The music on this song is more laid-back and the vocals are more melodic in their own way, with more introspective lyrics. We wanted to know the origin of this special song:
“I’m so glad to see you got the point so well. Motörhead heavy ballads were definitely an inspiration, I go crazy with amazing tracks like ‘One more fucking time’ or ‘God was never by your side’. But I think another good reference here is Type O Negative, just listen to it again and you’ll realize it’s just the typical Peter Steele style of mixing Black Sabbath with a pop song, with all those vocal harmonies and shit. ‘Condemned to the Twilight Zone’ is a very old composition mine intended at first for Deadmask (a band I had years ago), but that band split up without recording it, so I wrote new lyrics and included it here.”
With “Creator and Destroyer” we return to the thrash metal riffing of previous songs, and it works really well to switch from the atmosphere set with “Condemned to the Twilight Zone”, like a fist in your face. We also find a Celtic Frost mid-tempo in there and a very effective guitar solo. I was surprised by the percussion intro of “Reptile Eyes”, but I was even more surprised by the ancient throat singing that serves as an intro for this one! Some of these elements may seem even experimental for such a traditional inspired album, so we asked Dopi about them:
“Those ancient vocals are samples from an amazing album I found of Mongolian throat singing, very hypnotic stuff, real roots music. From the very beginning I decided to include interludes between every song so the album won’t stop, you can see it somehow like experimentation, I think it makes the listening more entertaining. So I recorded those instrumental short parts, and added some samples too, apart from the Mongolian singing there are a couple of an airplane landing and a ship wrecking underwater, and also samples from some fave films of mine like ‘Valhalla Rising’, ‘Neverending Story’ and ‘Premature Burial’, the classic Roger Corman film that also gave a name to this project.”
“G’Mork Rising” (you guessed it, here’s where the Neverending Story sample comes in) is a heavy, quiet but catchy and powerful instrumental. Yet another change in the mood of this rollercoaster of a record. “The Grave Song” would be the final song of the album, with a sing-along chorus and nice twin guitar harmonies again. But there’s more! The icing on the cake is a very cool cover of “Seekers of the Truth“, a mid-tempo song from the legendary album The Age of Quarrel by Cro-Mags that fits like a glove with the Premature Burial sound and reaffirms the NY crossover influences we were mentioning earlier.
” ‘Antihuman’ is about learning to live your life, to stay away from society’s rules and stereotypes, destroying mental uniforms or anything that questions your personality and freedom. The world is a fucked up place, mankind is a plague over the planet, everything they try to push down our throats trying to blind our eyes is nothing more than a bunch of old tricks and lies, reality’s hidden behind a very thick smoke curtain that most people can’t cross cos’ they’re afraid of the truth, they just worry about money, religious dogmas, political bullshit and materialistic comfort to live a senseless ordinary existence that will end in a remorseful death.”
All in all, I’d highlight the variety and versatility of this project, and the freshness that ironically all these old but diverse influences give to the album. I recently read a comment comparing this album to a vintage whisky bottle. I’m far from being a liquor connoisseur but I do enjoy my good ol’ Spanish brandy from time to time, and I can definitely taste that old barrel essence. So come take a sip.