GRAVE DECAY: Death Metal's Gentleman's Agreement
Grave Decay is a relatively new band hailing from The Netherlands, but made up of two guys that have racked up some miles in various metal bands. Roger Koedoot is on guitars and vocals and Maurice "Mauce" LeFeu deftly handles the lead guitar. The two friends work well together, and what was intended to be a short demo, quickly turned into a full length debut From Dust to Dust, which was self-released in October. Listen in to my transatlantic communication with the guys about all things symphonic death metal:
Hi Mauce, good to hear from you. I can't think of too many christian bands from The Netherlands, except maybe Delain and the Fear Dark label, which is RIP, I think, so it's a pleasure. I knew I recognized your name from somewhere. Do you run "The Metal Resource" online? Tell me about that. Is it an online zine like Heaven's Metal is these days, or just for posting reviews, or what? Mauce: Hi Chris, you're right. I was one of the founding members of TMR, but I'm not active on the team anymore. The reason is that it wasn't meant to be like that anyway. Back in 2006 we just used my personal domain (mauce.nl) to start it but we never could know it would grow as big as it is now. I didn't want to stop it, so I left it in the hands of my friend who took over so I could focus on my real passion- playing music. That's basically it in a nutshell. I actually visited Amsterdam in June 2017 on a 24 hour layover coming home from a missions trip in Madagascar. It is a beautiful, but crazy place, in my opinion. Is it hard to be a Christian in a place where everything is permissable? Is there a backlash to standing for your faith there? Mauce: When people (especially from overseas) think about The Netherlands, Amsterdam pops up like in a second. However The Netherlands has a lot a variety in spite of being a small country. I live in Almelo near the German border. When it comes to lifestyle, well it's up to yourself how to live your life. No one will force you to get involved in everything that's permissible- hahah. But to answer your question: it's not hard, but actually gets you in a situation to show a difference. That's the way I see it. You've been involved in a bunch of bands. What's your musical history? Has it always been metal that interested you? What started that?
Mauce: I've been into hard rock/metal since elementary school. Back then it was Kiss, Van Halen and the start of the so called New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) with bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, Motörhead, etc. And not long after that there was the rise of thrash metal from the Bay area. I was more or less on two boats because I liked them both. I felt that the wall of sound, but also the riffs and melodies were really appealing to me. I also was into bombastic film score, I remember spectacular movies from the past, especially movies about knights having heroic music themes that kind of connected with the metal music I was listening to (especially German power metal form the late 80s). So to me, there was already a link between bombastic symphonies and metal music. Roger: I started to listen to Rock/Metal when I was 16. It started with Stryper, Barren Cross, and Deliverance. Mainly christian bands. In the years that followed, I started to listen to more brutal bands like Believer, Mortification, Vengeance Rising, Seventh Angel and doom like Paramaecium. In 1995 I started Morphia with my brother Martin. It started like a regular death metal band, but soon it turned out to be Symphonic Doom Metal. Do you feel like there's a brotherhood among metalheads? Are there common traits that draw certain people to this kind of music? Mauce: I would say it's the other way around. It's a certain type of people that get attracted to metal music and therefore will gather at concerts. So you feel connected easily. There is some kind of recognition when they meet, maybe you can call it a gentlemen's agreement. It's that little thing that makes you feel connected even though you don't know the other person. Roger: I feel strongly connected to metalheads. Especially if someone shares the same passion. With Mauce I feel we share this (metal) passion. That’s mainly the reason we get along well and that we did get out From Dust To Dust relatively fast! Mauce: I agree!! Tell me about Grave Decay. Is the band different stylistically than other bands you've been in? I hear you saying that you are Christians in a mainstream band. Is there a reason for that?
Mauce: When Roger and I met, we were both looking for a new band to start. He left Morphia a few years earlier and I was in search of fellow band mates to start a new symphonic/bombastic death metal band. We started just sitting together and jamming along to songs. We liked to get to know each other as a people as well as guitarists. This worked out well and soon we got ourselves into bands that were started by request. That sounds strange, but let me explain. Back in 2013 somebody contacted me to gather a band to perform at a motorcycle event. I'm talking about the color MC scene to say so. I knew that they preferred 80's style of metal music. So we gathered other musicians from Decision D, Dilemma and Blue Labeled and we named our new band The Memory Remains as a reference to playing old style metal songs. However, it felt that good that we stuck together for the next few years and did several festivals inside and outside The Netherlands. However, Roger and I felt that even though it was really nice to do, it wasn't the musical direction we were looking for. So in December 2017 we sat down and Roger and I shared with the other band mates that we wanted to change the musical direction into symphonic/bombastic death metal. It became clear that the other band mates didn't want to go there, so we decided to stop TMR. So in January 2018, Grave Decay was born and we decided to record two or three songs as a demo and use it to find fellow band mates. But during the writing and recording process it became clear there was a lot of inspiration and soon we had enough material to record an entire album. So we took it to the next level and got it mixed and produced by someone else. That's how From Dust To Dust was created. Now we have an entire album and are looking for musicians to complete the band. Roger and I are both Christians, but Grave Decay isn't. Here in The Netherlands things work a little different compared to the USA. It's not that we're ashamed of our beliefs, but being labeled as a christian band causes a lot of obstacles doing gigs. Clubs prefer not to hire christian bands. Unless your goal is to play at churches, then it's okay. We'd rather mingle with the secular scene and show ourselves as we are there. I think bands like Galactic Cowboys, for example, are using the same approach so in that perspective you might compare us to them. Also, I think there aren't really christian metal bands that go into this specific direction when it comes to symphonies and bombastic elements. I'm not just talking about symphonic metal but the metal that leans to 'film score'-metal. That's the goal we have in mind and From Dust To Dust is the first step, but there is still a road to travel.
Have you had opportunities to play live shows? How has that gone? Are people appreciating the new album? Mauce: Like I mentioned with TMR we attended several festivals and gigs like Freakstock (GE), Graceland Festival and Brainstorm Festival and shared stages with bands like Innerwish, Living Sacrifice, Fleshkiller, Dark Sarah, Xandria and many more. But Grave Decay just started and once the lineup is complete we will be available for gigs. We released the album independently and that makes it hard to get the band and the album out to the public, but we got good responses and scores from the main Dutch metal magazines (all links to the articles are available on our website www.gravedecayband.com). But even with that, we still come up short on publicity since we have no label. Where have you toured? Who would you love to tour with? Mauce: We've done mostly festivals and we did a short tour with Illuminandi in The Netherlands and Belgium in the past with Beyond The Doom. With Grave Decay we'd be honored if we could share the stage some day with bands like Epica, Mayan, Ordan Ogan. So the same kind of metal styles. Who are your musical influences and heroes? Mauce: As a guitarist my biggest influences are Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, Tony MacAlpine, John Petrucci (to some extent, he's a robot!, duh!) and I also like the older work of Stephan Forte from Adagio. Bands that had a huge influence on me are Iron Maiden, Metallica, Queensryche, Crimson Glory, Helloween, Saxon, Judas Priest, Tourniquet, Stryper, Deliverance, Sacred Warrior, Recon and many more. What is music to you: livelihood, entertainment, escape, ministry, or something else entirely?
Mauce: Well to me, music is a part of my being, it gives me the opportunity to express myself or experience emotion where written or spoken words cannot go. That's the power of music and I think it was created for that purpose. Musical theory is man-made, but music itself is God-made. I also think when you want to share a message you need to be able to connect with your audience. I've seen too often that a band actually performed and didn't connect with the audience (both onstage and offstage). To me that's only half of the experience you can get. Because of this my wife and I started a house group with metalheads back in 2011 and later joined Sanctuary Holland with that group. That group has stopped by now but we've seen really good things. This to me is also very important and keeps you connected with 'the audience' when performing as a band.
This year my mother passed away and the song "Silent Suffering (Carolina)" is about that, I could share emotions in that song I never could express with words. Sadly enough, last month my wife passed away as well and I'm in mourning while writing this interview. When speaking to others I just can't express myself in full with words. I guess I will be able in music later, but for now I feel torn apart. It's been an extreme tough year for my family.
(Stopped to pray with Mauce about the recent loss of his wife)
Roger: Music is so much… For me it is being creative in writing songs, to feel the power that Metal brings, and just enjoy music for instance while traveling in my car. We enjoy the music our Creator created. He created the musical notes, we combine them into chords, and we can make songs. He did a really good job:-)! Are you happy with how From Dust to Dust turned out? Where would you like to see Grave Decay go this next year? Mauce: As explained it was meant to be a three song demo but it has grown into a well produced full length album. So yes, you can say we're happy with that result. But there is much much more on the album, We've put in hidden secrets, presents, or Easter eggs, if you will. They can be found in the music itself, but also in the cover art and booklet. We've put in dozens of little things only the ones that have a close look and good listen will discover. I'm not going to reveal them all but I'll give you one. It's a hidden secret in the song "Boots On The Ground." The song describes the way warfare has changed through time. When the solo starts, the first part is the sound of a neighing horse reflecting warfare centuries ago when horses were at the frontline. Then the solo comes but ends with dive bombs reflecting falling bombs of recent warfare. This is just one example there are so many other things to find. I've always liked albums from bands where you find new little surprises even after listening to it for 1000 times. We tried to accomplish that with From Dust To Dust too. Roger: We would love to have a complete band to hit the stages. While searching for fellow musicians we still continue to write songs. We would love to make the new songs more symphonic and more technical. Although it is already technical and symphonic, we want to take this a step further. For me, I want to create more heavy riffs than on the last album. Although we received a good response about our riffs, we are looking to take the music to the next level. How do you feel about how death metal has evolved over the last couple decades? I'm proud of how it's become more intellectual and creative than the old days of dumbed-down violent lyrics of Cannibal Corpse- type bands.
Mauce: I agree, it has evolved. There are still old-school death metal bands, but there are also bands that take it deeper both lyrically as well as musically. For instance, Scar Symmetry has a lot of progressive influence without parting from the death metal side. Check for instance their Holographic Universe album, excellent work. I think the new techniques that are available in digital recording have a big part in that as well. Roger: These days death metal comes in a lot of sub-styles. For us it is the symphonic elements that appeals to us. Bands like Nightland and Fleshgod Apocalypse use all those symphonic elements. It is a very good “add on” to the metal!! Also we think carefully about the lyrics we write. Not that we want to "point the finger", but we want to let people think about how they live their lives, and about the world we live in. Where do you see metal going in the future? There seems to be nothing radically new, but the way styles are mashing together- even like the way you guys meld symphonic elements with death metal would have been unheard of 20 years ago. Mauce: Well what is really interesting is that there are a lot of bands from the 80's reuniting as if there is a longing for old metal styles. I just don't know whether that's because of the lack of quality in new music or for nostalgic reasons or maybe both. It's just an interesting development. Fact is that for instance in the 80's guitar solos were more important than they are now. With Grave Decay we tried to find a middle way in that area. To us bands like Mayan, Orden Ogan and Epica are the direction we'd like to go. But it's a very hard style to accomplish. You need to dare to think out of the box and forget about rules about song structures and so on. You need to get free from music theory and let your own creativity speak to be able to do this, I think. Well, it was good talking to you Mauce and Roger. Is there anything you would like to relay to our readers?
Mauce: Thank you for having us here and doing this interview. If you like our music, we would appreciate if you could support us. Please like our facebook page and follow us on Instagram and Twitter, that really helps us. Details can be found on www.gravedecayband.com
(Photos courtesy respectively of:
band in color- Meindert Mulder,
Mauce- Renee Brannekreef,
Mauce in purple- LoudImages9,
Roger in b/w- Jeffrey Heijnen,
band in red- Tobias Ten Dam)