Trevor Strnad is THE OBITUARIST - Helping You Discover New Underground Music. This Month: New Standard Elite Records
In an attempt to feature more underground metal artists on Metal Injection, we have procured the services of one of the biggest fans of underground death and black metal we know, The Black Dahlia Murder frontman Trevor Strnad. Trevor will check in every month exposing you to some of the grimmest, brutal, and all around awesome metal you probably never heard of. This is his inaugural column.
Hello and welcome to my morbid little slab of Metal Injection ink, your sickly glimpse into a world of death… The Obituarist!
By way of obsessive curse my lichen finger has been glued deftly to the pulse of the underground, and it is by way of this column that I hope to exhume the most freshly excreted awesomeness in Death and Black Metal for your earthly pleasures. I will be your cryptic curator and you; the Metal-ravenous masses who are sick of all the watered-down crap the average metal publication tries to shove up your ass may now crack a celebratory beer and rejoice. No label bribes, no affiliations, no biases, no bullshit, just an outspoken nerd rapping on his greatest vice… listening to and collecting extreme music.
There was only one beast fit for my inaugural piece… he is a true lover and staple of the Brutal Death Metal underground and purveyor of one of the most exciting new record labels in the subgenre. The label is the upcoming NSE showcase tour and the ghoul behind it is none other than Inherit Disease drummer and all around swell guy, the indomitable Daniel Osborn!
New Standard Elite has been making major waves within the Brutal scene releasing one flawless slab of rib-crushing death metal after another, attracting legions of black-clad freaks from around the world to drool in anticipation of Daniel’s each release. I for one am solemnly sworn to support New Standard Elite’s brand of unpolished awesomeness… I have purchased every release on the label now (save the first Ossification EP, which I was late on but is said to be coming back into press) and I have no plans of stopping. From established powerhouses of the genre Gorgasm and Disentomb to exciting newcomers in Excoriation and Delusional Parasitosis, NSE has become a pillar of posthumous metal perfection… this as good as Brutal Death can get. If I can count on one thing in the world metal it’s that the next New Standard Elite band will decimate all in its path and leave my neighbors with PTSD! Dan was kind enough to answer my endless barrage of emailed questions about his labels intentions, his view of the underground world of Brutal Death Metal, the upcoming NSE showcase tour (!) and of course, everyone’s favorite prodigal sons of the genre, Defeated Sanity.
I want to first touch on the name New Standard Elite. It sounds like a declaratory cry of purpose; a real statement. For the uninitiated reader out there, what is the standard you are upholding with the label and why is it an important mission?
New Standard Elite… I know at first read, it can seem a little prideful and arrogant, but my vision for the label is actually quite opposite. My vision has many aspects, what most people see and understand is the very specific style of music NSE has focused on, but equally as important is my vision for how bands, fans, and customers should be treated.
Returning brutal death metal to its purest state of brutality, aggressiveness, and raw intensity is one of the musical focuses of the label. Breathing life back into the genre by removing the modern production style of sampled/quantized drumming, is the biggest step in this process. Sampling and quantizing is an amazing tool to use while recording, BUT, I feel that in brutal death metal exclusively, it removes everything that the music should embody, turning it into a stale, lifeless, genre. I feel the style had lost its way, I felt the need to take a few steps backwards, and forge a new path in the right direction. Setting a new standard for what brutal death metal should represent musically.
Do you see Brutal Death metal as an evolving style of music?
This is an interesting topic, and I think one of the most debated subjects in the genre.
I like brutal death metal because it is brutal death metal. If it changed to something that wasn't brutal death metal, I wouldn't like it.
I am not saying that in a close-minded way. There is a proper way to evolve; this isn't something that is forced, with the mindset of wanting to be different. Change for the sake of change is not the correct way to look at it. I have seen some huge changes in the genre since becoming obsessed with it 22 years ago. I have seen it reach its highest point, then lose its focus, evolve for the sake of evolving, but not naturally. This has resulted in something that is not authentic. No feeling, no drive, no emotion…. Not music.
I think the most obvious example of this is the huge increase of extremely talented musicians getting together, completely mastering their instruments with perfect technique and finesse, playing the most complex intricate riffs and patterns, BUT lacking the ability to write an actual song. The musicianship is impressive, but the musical aspect seems to have been forgotten.
I want music that gives me a very specific feeling when listening, the reason I instantly fell in love with this genre at my first exposure to it.
Did you see an available niche or a void in the scene for what you wanted to do and what labels inspired you to start one of your own?
I noticed a large decline in releases that appealed to me, most noticeable in the production style. When the heavily edited, sampled/quantized productions started becoming more and more prevalent, I started losing interest in what was current. I found myself listening to the older releases and appreciating them in a new way. It made me understand why I like what I like, it revived and reinforced my passion for the music and created the idea of starting something to preserve what is so important to me. This was the beginning of New Standard Elite.
Starting a tried and true physical copy driven record label in this digital day and age seems to me a ballsy move, but it from the looks of it for you, it appears to be going very well. Why does the physical copy still hold weight in death metal? Would you say brutal death metal is a more of a collectors music than other genres?
I am a collector of the physical format. Always have been, always will be. My first exposure to death metal was actually from my father. He was not a metal head by any means, but he could see that I enjoyed music more than the average 8 year old kid. Somehow, he came across a band that he knew I needed to hear. I remember his exact words, "Daniel, I need to show you something, let's go to the record store". When we got the store, I remember walking through all the isles with no idea where we were going, we ended up at the small heavy metal section in the back corner of the store. I remember staring at the artwork of all the albums while he was searching for what he wanted to show me. After a few minutes, he found it, we walked up to the counter, he paid for it and we walked out the car. He popped the cassette tape in, and handed me case. I will never forget this moment, my first time hearing death metal. Napalm Death "Utopia Banished", at 8 years old, my life was forever changed. I still own the actual cassette that was purchased that day.
I understand that the physical format is a dying thing, but it is not a concern to me. I don't have an interest in how many CD's I think NSE will sell. When I find a band that I am interested in, I don't care how established or popular they are, if their music gives me that feeling of when I first heard that cassette, that is what I care about.
The truth about death metal, brutal death metal specifically, is that there are people like me, who still collect and support. I have learned from New Standard Elite that this genre might be the last of this kind. I am overwhelmed by the support that has been show for the label, my appreciation really can't be measured by words. I am honored that bands and fans believe in and share my vision for New Standard Elite.
Can you imagine doing what you do as a small independent label without the powers of the almighty internet? How important is the internet to your label and how important do you think it was/is to the development of the brutal scene as a whole?
The internet is a blessing and a curse. As a fan, having information instantly available at my finger tips has enabled me to access the underground in ways that would have been almost impossible without it. At 13 years old, I would have NEVER known of Deprecated, a band that was only a few hours from me when I lived in California. Their original 1998 release is one of my favorite of all time, without the internet, I may have never known of this band. As a label, the constraints of not having this access are obvious.
The curse… Unauthorized downloads and piracy. I know this is a touchy subject, and people on both sides are equally set in their ways. The fans who choose to properly support by buying physical format understand why it is essential to the existence of what they love. The others who choose to download albums from unofficial sources seem to not understand the massive negative impact on death metal, and even if they do, they somehow justify their actions with a backwards thinking mindset. No matter how much you explain the detrimental repercussions of their actions, they refuse to acknowledge the fact that it is wrong. The reality is that it is destroying music, it's obvious and undeniable. As a fan, it is frustrating and depressing to see this, but drives me to increase my support of the bands and music I love. I try not to focus on the negative, it serves no purpose, all I can do is use that frustration and turn it into something positive, increased support.
What’s it like dealing with bands from all over the world? Do you see Brutal Death Metal as an international music?
The friendships I have made through New Standard Elite have enriched my life in an indescribable way. People who share the same mind and heart able to connect on a way that transcends everything. Things that normal divide people like religion, politics etc… have no effect. Brutal Death Metal is international music, no doubt, there are no physical boundaries. The variety is unique, very noticeable, but all possess the solid foundation of what makes the music what it is. Without these influences, Brutal Death Metal wouldn't be what it is today.
For the most part, the small but tight knit and highly web-connected scene of brutal death seems to me to be one of brotherhood and comradery rather than one of competition and selfishness. Are you friendly with the other big labels in brutal death, namely Comatose Music, Sevared Records, Willowtip, and Permeated?
I agree with this 100%. Being a label and having a new perspective on other labels has really opened my eyes to what's really going on. When sharing a common goal of doing whatever it takes to support the music, it is very apparent who is doing what, and why they are doing it. It is not a competition, it shouldn't be, but some seem to think it is. Steve Green from Comatose Music is solid; great guy with a great heart and mind. He has helped me work through the issues, problems and basics of what it takes to run a label. Any time I have contacted him label to label, he would give me honest, helpful advice and I know that he has a genuine desire to see New Standard Elite grow. I fully support Comatose Music in any and all aspects. I have good friendships with the majority of labels, some labels have been against NSE since day one. Misunderstandings happen are can usually be worked out, but some go out of their way to sabotage NSE as a label and me a person. I do not let this bother me and I make an effort to not get involved in drama. I choose to completely ignore it.
With no disrespect to any particular artist, what is your very favorite NSE release to date?
Of course I view and treat NSE bands as equals. Like I said before, the music is what I care about. The popularity of the band is not important to my vision. Each release has its own special qualities that make them unique. That being said, the recording process varies for each release. Sometimes, my first listen to the finished album is when I get the master disc, others, I hear the progression of the writing process song by song over the course of years, preview different mixes throughout the recording and then I get the final mastered album. Without having a preference to a certain release, I think Seminal Embalmment "Stacked and Sodomized" and Gore Infamous "Cadaver in Methodical Overture" are the albums I have listened to the most. These are both albums that I did not have any previews of before I had the final mix and master.
Tell us a little bit about your two newest releases, Embodied Torment and Iniquitous Deeds.
Embodied Torment and Iniquitous Deeds are both bands from Northern California that I was able to form personal friendships with before relocating from California to Indiana.
New Standard Elite released Iniquitous Deeds' EP and they have spent the last few years forming their first full length album "Incessant Hallucinations". I was able to listen to their new material during the entire writing process, they would send me single riffs, partial songs, and full songs upon completion. It was interesting to see the musical progression from the EP to the full length. I knew that something really special was being crafted, and it is heavily showcase in their recent release. To me, this is a perfect example of a natural evolution of brutal death metal, what I wrote about in the earlier question. The musicianship on this album is top notch, everyone is extremely talented and possess the skills to write a proper, well thought out song. It's hard to describe their music… Otherworldly, experimental, outside of the box music, while still remaining pure and true to the basic foundation and roots of brutal death metal. "Incessant Hallucinations" is extreme in every sense of the word, and might be a little difficult to grasp with the first few listens, but it has definitely raised the bar for the genre.
I first came across Embodied Torment through their Facebook page. Their promo had unique, dark but simple imagery that drew me in. I listened to their promo through their Bandcamp page and was really impressed by the feeling they created through their music. I few days later, a friend of mine booked them in my hometown of Ventura. I planned on attending the show, and also received a personal message from them asking if I would be there. When I arrived, I was excited to see them standing outside in Brodequin and Orchidectomy shirts, something that I had never seen in Ventura besides on my band mates in Inherit Disease. I knew that I was about to witness something exciting. As soon as they started playing, they created this atmosphere, something I had been craving, but had not experienced in a long time. I was very impressed and their live performance confirmed my desire to have them to be a part of NSE. The rest just fell into place.
Their NSE debut release "Liturgy of Ritual Execution" can be described as a straight forward approach on the classic brutal death idea, but you can feel the music also properly fuses with their medieval imagery. Dark and unique. I may be crazy, but it reminds be of a fusion of Brodequin and Immolation. They might not agree with that, haha, but that is the overall feeling I get.
Both albums are great. As a fan, I highly recommend them to any fan of extreme metal.
How much time, money and elbow grease goes into maintaining your passion? Do you have a day job on top of the hours of slaving you do for guttural death metal music? What sacrifices have you made to get this growing beast of a label where it is today? Do you have 2 year olds crawling around in a maze of stacks of Scatorgy cds in your Indiana home?
One of the reasons for relocating to Indiana was to escape the heavy financial constraints of California. A lot of positive changes came with the move. I am now able to dedicate the time to NSE, the bands, and the fans that is deserved. I wouldn't consider anything I do for NSE a sacrifice, I love it more than anything, music is my passion and the label is part of that. I am extremely lucky to have a wife that is supportive of my passion and trusts me enough to leave CA behind. She is an integral part of NSE and helps me in any way she can. No 2 year olds crawling around in mazes of CD's lol, but we recently found out that we are expecting a brutal death baby sometime at the end of the year. We are very excited about our first child, and a brutal death baptism is definitely in the near future. =)
Did you see the label getting as big as it has now and do you have bigger goals for the future?
Like I said earlier, I am honored to have people believe in my vision. People joining my vision and helping to create what NSE is today. I have plans to expand and branch into different areas of brutal death. I am working on adding mixing and mastering under New Standard Elite and a proper recording studio at my new location in Indiana. Also some secret plans that I am excited about. Those will be revealed later when they have some more time to develop.
What do you do to advertise yourself? Do you employ tactics at a street team level?
Right now, I am going the old school route. Good band relationships, proper customer service, and I feel like the rest will work itself out. With the internet, everyone is constantly being bombarded with advertisements and hyped up "marketing" campaigns. I feel this has made things become less interesting, and less special. As a fan, I will find what I like, I don't need someone or something trying to convince me to like something. I am very active in searching for what I want, I feel like most BDM fans are also. If I find something I like, I show everyone I know, they show everyone they know, and it snowballs into something I feel is more important and effective than flashy and pushy advertisement. The New Standard Elite Facebook is a great way for people to keep updated on current happenings. I have done a few street team level promotions, the response has been greater than expected, so I run out of material pretty quickly, but I have something planned for this year that I am pretty excited about.
Am I safe in assuming that a lot of your connections came from networking you had done previously with your band Inherit Disease? In the brutalverse, Inherit Disease is a well-liked and respected band. From my perspective it appears you already had earned the trust of many of the bands you would eventually sign to the roster, is this true? What’s it like having genre legends like Gorgasm and Blue Jensen (Euphegenia, Guttural Secrete) put their faith in what you’re doing?
Inherit Disease has unexpectedly opened up so many doors for me and that has affected NSE positively. I made many new friends and relationships from playing in Inherit Disease. Getting to meet and become friends with my favorite bands is something I would have never guessed would happen and I still think about how crazy it is. I met Kyle Christman at CIM in 2007. We became friends instantly, kept in contact over the years and that is the beginning of the NSE/Gorgasm friendship. NSE didn't exist, and Kyle wasn't playing for Gorgasm at the time, but without that initial meeting, I don't know if it would have ever happened. Kyle put his trust in me, the other members put their trust in me, and I made sure to honor my promises to them 110%. I don't take that idea lightly, it is very serious to me, and part of my vision with the label is to always go above and beyond any promise I make.
The same goes with Guttural Secrete, my first friendship in the band was with Blue, great dude, very genuine guy. We would keep in contact and talk to each other on phone. Again, this was before NSE or Euphegenia existed. That grew into friendships with Randy and Fitz, which in turn resulted in the NSE/Euphegenia relationship.
I don't take these things for granted. The bands trusting me is not only an honor, but adds fuel to my passion and vision for treating bands how they should be treated.
Please take a moment to tell the masses about the first leg of the upcoming NSE showcase tour you’ve assembled. Who booked the tour? An agent? Do you feel like putting together a full blown tour for a brutal death metal package faces obstacles that booking bands in other genres wouldn’t face?
The upcoming NSE tour will be the 3rd label tour, but the first one that I have assembled on my own. It was an interesting thing to tackle without any experience, but it came together with very few problems, and I am really excited about it. Bringing two International bands to the states isn't easy financially, and since BDM is an underground genre, it is difficult to coordinate with venues and promoters who view it as something they can't make a profit on. Finding the right promoter was key, someone who was interested in the music, and the music only. That's how any and all aspects of BDM should be.
The first date of the tour sees your lineup as part of brutal menagerie Las Vegas Deathfest. What does LVDF and similar homegrown festivals mean for a scene like yours?
Fests like this are very important. It gives our small scene a designated place to come together and enjoy our passion with like minded people. I know they aren't easy to set up and take some serious dedication. I am appreciative of it, and I know everyone else is also.
I feel like Defeated Sanity are the leaders of the genre right now… the most twisted characters in crushing technical Brutal Death. To me they are running with the same torch first held by Suffocation and Disgorge, who are obviously their main influences. I have noticed a few bands out there who are taking nods from DS and aspiring to write more creative, involving music… it’s a great thing that’s happening. I would even say that some of the bands on your label have been influenced by Defeated Sanity’s body of output. What is the X factor that Defeated Sanity has that has made them ultra-brutal death’s most watched band? Why can’t those guys get a freakin’ proper break and take over the universe? With no sleight to Jason and Willowtip, do you think they would find a happy home on your label?
Defeated Sanity is one of my favorite bands, when they released "Psalms of the Moribund", it was the first I had heard of them. This album still remains my favorite and is in my top 10 sickest BDM albums of all time. I can say for sure, that every band on NSE has the utmost respect for this band, so some influence here and there is an expected homage to them. In my opinion, the music speaks for itself, the skill, talent and song writing is beyond perfect. Call me crazy, but I think the X factor that really brings it all together is their choice of production. Raw, unedited, pure and their production captures their intensity perfectly. Yes, Chapters, and Passages are most polished, more professional sounding, but they still stay true to natural playing and natural skill. I don't think they can get a break because no matter how bad ass they are, they are still a BDM band. Their upcoming release with the more progressive side may open up new doors for them, but I am hoping it won't make them change course and move away from the signature sound of Defeated Sanity.
Finally, as a man with his ear seriously planted to the ground, what resources on the web would you point a newcomer to brutal music toward?
If you find a band you like, investigate the label. For the most part, labels have a very clear direction. Spend some time doing research, immerse yourself in the music, keep an open mind. Don't let others opinions push you around, think for yourself and like what you like. Make sure to support the bands and labels directly. Do this and there will be a great future for brutal death metal.
You heard it folks… get off your butts and get involved. Check out the roster, buy some albums, and go to the NSE tour and show some support!
That’s all for now kiddies, thanks for reading. Stay glued to Metal Injection for more minstrels of malodorous malady from yours truly in death, Trevor Strnad, The Obituarist!
Follow Trevor on Twitter for more music recommendations. We would remind you to check out his band, The Black Dahlia Murder, but chances are you already know about them.