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Interviews

Scythe - Rick Scythe

06/04/12  ||  Curt

Scythe

Rick Scythe has been kicking around playing underground blackened death metal for many years. Many of you may remember him from his band Usurper who were on Earache records for a while and released awesome albums like “Cryptobeast”. Rick is back with a new band, the eponymously named “Scythe”, and a new album entitled “Beware the Scythe.” The new album is a beast, which harkens back to the golden days of death metal and will kick the shit out of you.

Global Domination: First of all congrats on your album “Beware the Scythe”, I personally thought it was a great blackened death album with some thrashy sections as well. How do you feel that this album compares to your past work? To me it doesn’t seem like Usurper, but yet it doesn’t seem too far from them either

Rick Scythe: Thanks for the positive words Curt! I agree with your description, blackened, death, thrash… all of that can apply to Scythe. I feel we have a balance between classic first wave of black/death/thrash from the early/mid 80’s as well as some heavier aspects of late 80’s / early 90’s death metal, but there is also some 70’s hard rock attitude here and there as well as a healthy dose of 80’s classic metal spirit to many of the songs. Perhaps it’s a weird combination, but it works for Scythe.

I agree, Scythe definitely has it’s own approach and the end result I feel doesn’t sound like Usurper Jr.,or something generic like that. I would say that anyone really familiar with Usurper would be able to recognize some familiar elements in my riff style and song structures, and of course the “death grunts” no avoiding that. But Scythe for sure has it’s own energy. I think where Scythe differs the most is the primal energy of being a 3 piece. Usurper had many moments of big, heavy straightforward stuff, but also had some more complex arrangements, especially on the later albums. Scythe’s sound is more geared to be straight forward, the goal is to have every song have non-stop headbanging riffs.

One thing I really like about the album is that it’s decidedly old-school in it’s sound and presentation. What is it about the 80s and 90s black and death metal style that appeals to you and why do you feel that the style is still relevant today?

To me personally, that style is timeless. Listen to Celtic Frost today or Venom or Mercyful Fate or even old Slayer… those early albums by those bands have stood the test of time. You can’t fake that, and you don’t know something will become “timeless” until years later, you can’t “try” to do that, it just happens out of magic. I like the fact that the first wave of 80’s thrash/black/death metal were extreme and raw and over-the-top, but when you listen to the song structures, they had classic, big rock ‘n roll chorus’, they had stuff you could sing along to, stuff you could head bang and fist bang to – it was rooted in classic rock and classic early heavy metal.

The first wave of 90’s death metal like the first couple of Morbid Angel albums or Entombed or Asphyx, Unleashed also had this kind of approach. Songs had memorable chorus’, had some traditional song structures and so forth and some of those bands created timeless masterpieces. Even early 90’s black metal like Darkthrone and Nifelheim had this classic style which helped those bands to have a classic sound.

I think as the scene evolved in later years, “extreme” metal bands kind of lost ties to the originators and had a goal to only be the evilest, or brutalest or most satanic or most technical or fastest or whatever… it kind of lost the rock n’ roll/classic heavy metal spirit.

Also the artwork and presentation; back in the day it was important to have kick ass cover art. It always enhanced the music to have a quality full color painting that was straight up metal. Logos and paintings were important parts that created visuals to go along with the music. Once we got into the late 90’s early 2000’s many bands just had these cheesy Photoshop covers with all kind of feathery wings and layers of lame computer effects and full sentences for band names. I want to stay true to the old spirit of underground metal.

What do you feel are the standout tracks on “Beware the Scythe”? My personal faves are “Mastermind” and “Tyrannical Strangehold”.

Thank you. I think “The Iron Witch” is my favorite track on the album. I also like “Mastermind” a lot too and of course the title track. “Tyrannical Stranglehold” also gets my head banging, I love the chugging guitar riffs and interplay between the guitars and bass on that one.

Live, stuff like “Tunguska Death Ray” and “Eye of the Crow” are a blast to play. Those two songs are meant to be heard live with stacks cranked to 11, sweating you balls off, the stench of sweaty leather and hair flying around a-la Venom circa 1985. I like all the tracks for one reason or another.

How did you go about forming Scythe? Did you already know the other guys for a while?

Basically when Usurper ended things just kind of exploded. We were all burnt out, pissed off and were just kind of “done” with the whole rat race of the scene. I am always writing and working on ideas. Through the years I compiled a lot of songs. Some songs I didn’t use because they didn’t totally fit with Usurper. So in 2007 I formed this short lived two man project called Nightshade. It was this weird band with a lot of dark haunting elements. Kind of theatrical/art/experimental/horror stuff. Just a complete diversion from Usurper. It was fun to do something different.

Once that band got going Tim joined the band as a live drummer, then he suggested his buddy Dan to play bass. I really clicked with these guys musically even though they were quite a bit younger than me. We had many of the same metal and rock influences.

That band broke up it 2009, so I figured I would just start a solo project. I put the word out online and this guitarist named Joe Martinez answered. He was in a band with Jon Necromancer and Dan Tyrantor before they were in Usurper, back in the early/mid 90’s right around the time Usurper was starting out. So I joined with him, then this guy Ben Mulvey joined, who played drums with Joe Martinez in a different death metal band in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Both great musicians, both great guys and things were really sounding good with them, that’s when Scythe became an actual band.

We needed a bassist so I talked to Dan Geist, not only because he was he a killer bassist, but he also was a perfect fit for what Scythe was doing. I considered him a good friend and a true metal warrior. Right when Dan learned the songs and was ready to start jamming with us, we lost our rehearsal spot. Then after a few months I lost contact with Joe and Ben.

I figured at this point I might just retire, but Dan was very dedicated and wanted to keep things going. He talked to Tim who wanted to play drums, so I figured, why not? We got together in late 2010, things sounded and felt great, that’s when Scythe was re-born. We were talking about adding a second guitarist, but as we kept rehearsing we said fuck it, let’s just keep it a 3 piece.

How do you come up with your lyrics?

Most of my lyrics are from stuff I read about. Even back to 1996 when I first started writing more lyrics with Usurper it was all inspired by stuff I read. I don’t like meaningless words about Satanism or gore or dungeons and dragons. I like stuff that can be just as creepy, or evil, or powerful or majestic, but it needs to be from a personal perspective based on topics that I personally find fascinating, topics that most metal bands don’t really explore.

I don’t generally write lyrics in narrative form, but rather write words about a topic to create a visual picture. I also like to provide some background info or liner notes for certain songs so people can explore deeper meanings. I am fascinated with ancient civilizations, end time prophecies, cryptozoology, time travel, conspiracies, UFO/monster folklore, technology run amok, and other occult topics – so those elements will always be part of my lyrics. Just because you write about occult or paranormal topics doesn’t mean you are an evil person, I don’t ever preach to anyone about religion or politics, but sometimes those elements are part of the story so to speak.

The bottom line is, I like to create stories that enhance the music and artwork, but I don’t want it to be where someone can’t appreciate the song as whole just because they agree or disagree with something. I like things to be vague enough where people can come up with their own interpretations as well. Overall I view metal as entertainment, so the last thing I want to do is bore people with some fanatical ideology or uninspired drivel.

So, to my understanding, Scythe is NOT a solo band correct? If that’s the case do you guys all make your decisions on songs, tracklisting, sound etc as a group or do you have the final say no matter what?

Okay, obviously it’s called “Scythe”, and with this first album I came up with the concepts and I wrote pretty much the entire album, but that doesn’t mean the other members didn’t contribute. This album contained a lot of stuff I had written for Usurper that we never used, some stuff got re-arranged a bit, but most of it was written before Dan Geist and Tim were in the band. Having said that, I don’t want anyone in the band who doesn’t have anything to offer. Just because I had a song written doesn’t mean the other guys didn’t contribute. Dan would add his own bass elements. At times my riffs would inspire him to create like a counter melody or some complimentary bass parts, that happened on many songs. Tim re-wrote a couple lines of lyrics on “Beware The Scythe” and sang some parts, plus he recorded and produced the album. Dan does a lot of vocals with me including some of the main parts and chorus parts too.

We ALL contributed to create the Scythe sound. On the next album, myself and Dan will write a lot of the songs together. We will get to collaborate a lot more writing riffs. I’m sure I will always arrange the songs, write the words and come up with the general concept, but I want this to be a full band effort. Dan Geist is a great bassist and we have very similar views on music. Tim is a great producer and is very creative. We all seem to agree on the music and song order, so it hasn’t been a problem yet.

Let’s say hypothetically, one of the guys quits the band at some point, sometimes that shit happens, I know it from Usurper. Of course this is just hypothetically speaking, but if it ever happened… the show will go on. But whomever would replace them would have to be able to contribute something, whether it’s backing vocals, riffs, enhancements, recording/producing… something. I don’t want to be in a band with empty wells or slackers or people who want to just use Scythe as a springboard to get noticed. I have no problem doing the heavy lifting so to speak, but I want everyone in this band to have pride in the band and be able to bring something to enhance Scythe.

The iTunes version of “Beware the Scythe” is supposed to come out this week and so is the vinyl. When is the CD going to be released?

The CD will be released this week as well. Everything should be out by March 28, 2012. RIP Records will release the vinyl first and Primitive Reaction will release the CD. Later, Primitive Reaction will release their own version of the vinyl and RIP will eventually release their own version of the CD. RIP handles USA and Primitive Reaction handles Europe so the cover art is different and unique for each version. If you check www.scythe.us, it has all the info for ordering the album.

I know you are someone who feels that a person should get their music as a physical product (CD, vinyl) rather than as a music file. Why do you feel this way? Do you, yourself ever listen to music by MP3

I should clarify this, I feel if someone likes a band enough to want an entire album, or even some songs, they should support the artist by purchasing the official release. Outlets like iTunes are official versions that the band gets paid for. It’s not all about money, it’s about pride. So if you want to listen to a band you shouldn’t rip them off. An iTunes/MP3 version is perfectly acceptable, but if you are a true fan and are really into the band, I would think you would want a tangible product for your collection. That’s what’s so cool about releasing vinyl; for the old schooler, it sounds and looks great on vinyl, for the new kid who only uses his iPod, he can have a collection of records for his favorite band without the need for a turntable. Records are bigger and look cooler than a CD.

Yes, I have an iPod, I mainly use it to listen to podcasts, but I also transfered a lot of my CD’s on there too. It is great to plug it into my car and never have to listen to the crappy radio. I even bought a few songs on iTunes. Stuff where I just want one song or something, I feel it is kick ass to pay a dollar and get the real song on your iPod. I can honestly say I never once illegally downloaded an album… OK, I don’t really know how to do it, but still…

When you were with Usurper you guys obviously didn’t get the same amount of attention of other bands of similar style, despite having just as high a level of quality of songs as those bands. Why do you think this was? Anything you would have done differently?

I think it had a lot to do with not kissing enough ass. We knew if you really wanted to be critics darlings and become this breakthrough band you have to be willing to kiss ass and play nice and all that. We never shied away from telling people to fuck off. Even people at the label, or tour promoters or anyone who we felt was showing us disrespect or being unprofessional or just full of shit… was it the smartest thing to do? …probably not. Would I change anything? … hell no! I am very proud Usurper got to tour 17 countries around the world and got to release 6 albums… all on our own terms. I never wanted to be a rock star. It was always about the music. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be rich, but I would never want to be famous. I just want to create quality music.

How do you plan on getting the word out on “Beware the Scythe”? It would be a shame if this wasn’t a successful release.

I’m not sure. I want to let as many people know about this release as possible. I want people who actually liked and supported Usurper to know it’s out. I want people to be aware that this album is out there, because I believe in this band. But I don’t want to sign to a big label. I’m hoping word of mouth and help from the labels will let people know about it. Hopefully the die-hards will find it.

Any plans for shows outside of Chicago?

Not yet. We’ve had a couple offers and some talk, but we will have to see when the album is out for a while what will be realistic. We won’t be going on some tour anytime soon, but I wouldn’t mind playing a few select shows in different states or countries in the near future.

Any advice you would give for someone who’s looking to play death or black metal?

Play from the heart. Trends come and go. Everyone says they are against trends, yet most bands just starting out are more concerned with fitting in to the new popular sound, rather than crafting their own sound. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel, just be honest with what you think sounds cool and don’t get too concerned with how you are perceived. If your sound is rooted in a good foundation, you will be able to create something that isn’t disposable.

How exactly did you start playing metal?

I started guitar at age 13. I remember taking some lessons and this old guy was showing me these nerdy Mel Bay chords… no offense, but I wanted to play hard rock and early metal stuff and I lost interest. My Mom was pissed because she bought an acoustic guitar and I quit after 4 lessons. I saved up for an electric guitar and just started playing by ear. Eventually I got up to level of being sucky, but just barely good enough. I started in a couple bands in 1986-1990. Then when I finally got good enough where I knew how to write properly and execute properly and I knew how to create music that I wanted to hear, I formed the early version of Usurper in 1992. In 1993 Usurper became a full time band… and here I am today.

Do you listen to any newer bands? Who? If not what albums have you been playing lately?

I’m not sure? As far as “new” bands, I mainly listen to whatever Dan throws on after practice. He introduces me to a lot of newer bands, but we always seem to end up listening to old metal most of the time. There are good bands out there. I don’t like this new modern wave of wanna-be bay area thrash. It does nothing for me, it’s so derivative of early bay area bands that it almost seems like a parody to me. Out of newer bands, I thought Hail of Bullets was pretty cool, Dan played me this band called Devil’s Blood that was pretty interesting. Also heard this band Portrait a couple weeks ago that kind of sounded like King Diamond, that was pretty good. I like Devil’s Whorehouse… I don’t know if that’s considered “New”. My favorite new band is Stone Magnum. They kick ass. Other than that I listen to old metal, old hard rock, stuff like Goblin too when I’m in the mood. I like to create music so much that I don’t want to become too influenced by anyone current.

Scythe (and Usurper for that matter) have a lot of occult imagery in both their artwork and lyrics. I generally take most metal art and lyrics as a form of entertainment much like horror novels or movies, however have you ever been concerned that your music could have a negative influence on someone, or that someone might take it too seriously?

I’ve always looked at the metal lyrics and imagery as entertainment. The lyrics of Usurper and Scythe more or less deal with hidden side of reality. Occult really just means “hidden” or “secret”. I have always concentrated on topics that revolved around the paranormal and tried to make connections to other things. Such as UFO folklore could also be perceived as “angels” or “demons”. These type of things have been written about since man first used words.

Then you look at things like gargoyles. These are hybrid beings or chimera creations. They are beasts of the grotesque. If you study art, (which I have extensively), you realize that “grotesque” images were often used by the Church. Enter an old Church and you will see some very strange images. You will see demons, gargoyles, people being debased… all in stone form or paintings. Why??? Because it is powerful and interesting and illustrates the power of good verses evil. It illustrates the evil lurking in the shadows of our humanly existence. Good means nothing if you can’t compare it to something evil. Pick up a Bible and you will read about demons, giants, hybrid beasts, UFO’s, end time prophecies… does that make the Bible evil? The Bible references Satan way more than I ever have.

If people take things in metal too seriously then they most likely take things like video games too seriously, or cartoons, or movies, or wrestling… I’m convinced this is a very small percentage of people on the planet. These type of people would do evil things even if they never listened to music of any kind. Metal is just an easier scapegoat than bad parenting.

As someone who’s played Death Metal for quite a while do you ever feel like you’re getting burnt out on it and long to play a different style?

Sure. But that’s why I don’t consider Scythe or Usurper straight up death metal. I think there is enough other elements in the music that keeps things interesting. I experimented with other music for a bit after Usurper and it was a blast! But ultimately, I love playing thrash/death/black/heavy metal/hard rock. I can see myself doing something slightly different some day again, but it would never be some commercial or popular form of music. I hate plastic commercial pop/commercial rock music.

Are you able to exist on music alone for an income or do you need to support yourself by other means?

No. Music alone doesn’t pay the bills. It is very hard to make ends meet playing any form of extreme metal unless you tour like 200 days a year or something. During a period of time in Usurper, I didn’t have a regular stable job and I did okay, but it was a struggle. It is much better to have a solid way to pay the bills and make sure it’s a job that gives you enough flexibility to take time off when you need to. The last thing I want to do is find myself selling out because I need to make money off my music.

Do you think if Usurper ever ends up turning into one of those unsung bands like Autopsy, At the Gates or Believer who didn’t get recognition until well after their demise, do you think you would reform? Or is that stage of your career 100% over?

Nothing is 100% over. Life seems to have a way of going in circles. It’s the ouroboros effect. Right now Scythe is my main band. I’m not a guy who ever did side projects, I really like to put full effort into my current band. When people get involved in too many projects it seems to water things down.

Having said that, there is always a possibility of doing something again with Usurper, but the time and reason would have to be right. I think if anything, it would be just myself and Joe Warlord (drums) recording some music. Perhaps General Diabolical Slaughter or Dan Tyrantor adding some vocals in the studio? I don’t know. .. I haven’t given it too much thought. I know when I see Joe every now and then we usually end up discussing the possibility of recording some new Usurper songs, but only time will tell.

I view things like this: Scythe the band compares to Usurper in way similar to how King Diamond the band compares to Mercyful Fate… they are both connected and if you like one band you will like the other. Both Usurper and Scythe will always be part of me, but right now Scythe is my only priority. Since Scythe is connected with Usurper, and I wrote almost all the Usurper songs, it is only logical that Scythe plays a few Usurper songs at every show. So when people come to a Scythe show they know they will always get to hear a couple Usurper gems.

If Usurper ever does reform or re-record it would have to be genuine. If we ever got one of the line-up’s together for a show or something I would prefer for it to be with some form of the classic era, like Jon Necromancer (bass), Joe Warlord(drums), General D. Slaughter(vocals) and myself (guitar), no second guitarist, just the early, classic Usurper feel… unfortunately I don’t think that would ever happen. Regardless of what the future holds, Scythe is my priority and no matter what, I want to continue with Scythe. We have a lot of good music ahead of us.