Music interview: Loathe

Death metal is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea but the genre enjoys a solid following in Malta. At the forefront of the scene are Loathe. I had a chat with bassist Mark Debono in the run-up to the band’s upcoming gig.

Loathe are one of the bands that continuously crops up in conversation whenever I’m at some event surrounded by my “metal-head” friends. I’ve never actually seen them perform live but this quintet (though maybe quintet is the wrong word to use, as it conjures up images of chamber music) have acquired something of a legendary status through the years. Suffice it to say that their Pre-Valentine Metal Massacre – yes, with metal language does tend to get a bit colourful and I assure you, it’s all part of the fun – is an annual appointment that no self-respecting metal lover will miss.

The guys have also been making waves on the international circuit. In the UK, they’ve shared the stage with several big names in the metal scene. They left enough of an impression that Kerrang, one of the heavyweight metal magazines, carried a highly positive interview about them. And now Valentine’s Day is almost with us once again and that can only mean one thing for those who prefer a good mosh pit to a dozen roses. Another legendary Loathe gig is coming up.

When and how was the band born?

Four musicians got together to play some riffs in 2000 and, a few line up changes later, here we are. There’s currently five of us, Adam, Kurt, Karl, David and myself.

 For the many who have no clue: what characterises death metal? What is the difference from black metal?

Both styles are extreme styles of music in their own right but: death metal is a brutal, fast type of metal mostly characterised by its guttural vocal style, that is roaring or whatever else you want to call it. There’s also the technical capability that one must possess to play this style. Black metal is traditionally known as the dark metal music, mostly from Scandinavia, and with imagery of the northern forest and members wearing make up. These lines have been blurred and a number of excellent, and very successful bands, fuse elements from  both styles.

What do you see as the ideological roots of the genre?

We don’t think of it in terms of  ideology; to us it’s just a matter of playing the music we love.

The music is hardcore, aggressive – that’s the reputation and the image anyway. Just how scary are you guys?

Not that scary. And really, quite approachable if you catch us at our day jobs. You could never tell we’re makers of dark, evil music and all that.

And how important is image in death metal?

Not very important. Definitely not as important as other styles of music, especially the more mainstream ones. It’s not that image doesn’t count, but in our world bands are judged by their technical ability and the musical relevance and richness of their albums, not by how well they look in a boob tube.

What attracts each of you to the genre?

Mostly it was the Mötley Crüe song Girls Girls Girls.

 Do you have a different onstage/offstage persona?

I suppose you could say that, but really this is down to what people perceive. The stage is the most natural extension of us playing our music, so it’s not like we put on our characters when we get on stage.

Malta being what it is, have you ever received any backlash for your style – or at least raised eyebrows?

Raised eyebrows, yeah.  Maybe, more a sort of curious wonderment at how people manage to enjoy this style of music. Which they do actually, and in droves.

What has been the band’s biggest achievement?

Our tours in the UK were all achievements and learning experiences in and of themselves. We played with some excellent bands, got interviewed by Kerrang and made quite a few fans wherever we went, so it was awesome! Being nominated for Best Metal Band in the MMAs last year was pretty sweet too.

Last year you released the first full length album. What has the response been like? Is there a 2nd album planned soon?

The response has been pretty solid. We’re happy with our efforts on that album, and although it’s close to heart we see where our shortcomings lie and they will not be repeated in upcoming releases. A roundabout way of answering your question, yes, there is more material which will be recorded soon, but the jury’s still out as to what format we’re going with. Got to go with the times.

 You play to audiences that vary from Extreme Metal Assault to Notte Bianca: do you tailor your performance according to the audience?

Yeah we do actually. When we’re being commissioned by a corporate sponsor or the government, for events such as the Beer Festival and Notte Bianca to quote to examples, we do our best to keep the on-stage banter between us more family friendly. On other occasions we tend to get carried away…

Has the local metal scene changed through the years?

This is a bone of contention for many, but I have an unorthodox viewpoint on it. The scene has changed but I’m not sure it’s for the worse. There are lots of bands now, perhaps more than before and still plenty of fans. I will say that venues which are good for live music are somewhat of a rarity locally and barring a couple of exceptions, this has actually got worse.

 Do you see a distinction between music for its own sake and music as entertainment?

I do know that we all love music and we’re all mightily entertained playing it too. And our fans don’t seem to complain much.

Most legendary gig ever was (and why)?

Definitely Woodstock. Dunno why, but my dad says so.

How important is recognition for you as musicians?

If it were really important we wouldn’t be playing this style; we play because we love the music we play. That said, we got a really awesome compliment from Brikkuni frontman Mario Vella after he saw our Notte Bianca set. He said that we really play with our heart on our sleeve: “ir-realta hi li vera dawn il-metal bands ituk qalbhom live”, quote unquote. That was a compliment that we appreciated, not least because someone who is certainly not a fan of the style we play sees that it’s not just noise, that there’s actual emotion in there. That’s the sort of recognition I’m looking for, the feeling of a shared consciousness or kindred spirit or something of that sort.

 Define good music.

I couldn’t be so presumptuous as to do that.

Your top three albums ever and why?

I have over 800 albums in my collection, from all genres and subcultures of music and the rest of the guys have similar collections. I could never whittle my favourites down to just three!

Is there any kind of music you can’t stand?

I absolutely loathe these CDs with cover versions of insanely famous songs played on panpipes. You know, the sort of thing you hear in hotel lobbies. And on a similar vein, I despise cover bands.

A musician you’d like to collaborate with?

Definitely Mariah Carey.

What other artists do you currently listen to a lot?

At the moment I’m listening to two excellent instrumental metal bands, called Animals as Leaders and Scale the Summit, bands with such dizzying technical abilities they make you feel bad about your own prowess. And my staple death metal diet of Behemoth, the Black Dahlia Murder, Vader, Wretched and a few others. And Nine Inch Nails, the Deftones, Marilyn Manson and countless other artists. Of course, that’s just me, the other four guys have their very own varied musical digests.

What’s next for Loathe?

An awesome gig with two great local bands on February 9 and then a long period of practice makes perfect, recordings and hopefully new material and a couple of hard-hitting gigs before the year is out.

Where do you see the band in five years’ time?

Realistically speaking: having toured a few more times, released a handful of albums and got grayer.

What can we expect from the February 9 gig?

It should be pretty awesome. Abysmal Torment, who will also be playing, are on a real high right now as they’ve been performing with some of the biggest names in death metal all of last year and are heading overseas for some more soon. Club Murder are quite simply a seven man wrecking team and we had lots of fun sharing the Beerfest stage with them last summer. It’s always great to get two awesome bands on board alongside us.

An edited version of this interview was published on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta). Loathe will be performing live together with Abysmal Torment and Club Murder on Thursday, February 9 at V-Gen in Paceville. For more information check out the events page on Facebook.