What has seemed like a quick ascent from the independent self-release of their own EP to a deal with Century Media Records and preparing for a coveted opening slot on an overseas tour featuring two of death metal’s most recognizable names has actually been much time spent in preparation, intense wood-chopping and the sculpting of, and dedication to, craft. The buzz surrounding Portland’s Vitriol is as growing as it is deserved. Unlike most new bands these days, the recently-expanded quartet turned the microscope onto themselves and their art as opposed to putting popularity, acceptance, and numbers of likes and followers in their crosshairs.
The result is To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice (pre-order now), a stunningly powerful and heartfelt explosion of death metal that works flashes of the member’s identities into a base provided by Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal, Nile and Suffocation. We contacted vocalist/guitarist Kyle Rasmussen via email and got his expansive thoughts on the value of hard work, touring with heroes and why a video playthrough of one’s songs isn’t always the waste of time it appears to be.
The three of you used to be in a band right before Vitriol called Those Who Lie Beneath. What was your intent in coming together as Vitriol and what dissolved Those Who Lie Beneath?
Kyle Rasmussen: Vitriol’s relation to Those Who Lie Beneath is purely historically anecdotal. One has nothing to do with the other. Those Who Lie Beneath was comprised of very young musicians that had yet to define their individual creative voices. As time went on, it became clear to me that I would not be satisfied with what Those Who Lie Beneath was and would likely continue to be. Ultimately, creative and personal differences dissolved the band. In mourning the loss of the efforts I made in the band’s name, I naively chose to continue the project under Those Who Lie Beneath for a brief period before it became very clear to me that it had become something so different. I realized then that clinging to a dead name would only be an act of fear and that I had to start again. I officially changed the name to Vitriol in 2012 and put TWLB to rest.
Watch the just-released playthrough video for “Crowned In Retaliation” from To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice:
When putting Vitriol together, did you have a particular direction in mind? Were you looking to deliberately do something that stood apart from past projects or did your sound just happen naturally? Was the name change from Those Who Lie Beneath simply a name change or done to reflect a stylistic change as well?
Rasmussen: Part of what has taken Vitriol so long to rear our head is that the developmental phase of our sound was painstaking. I don’t think anyone is ever entirely clear on what they’re going for, that is if they’re trying to do something honest to them. What I knew is that I was repulsed by the pulling of punches that I felt a lot of modern extreme metal was guilty of. Whether it be subject matter, sonic representation, songwriting ambition. I wanted to take the reckless amount of time necessary to make a death metal record that turned every knob to 11. Vitriol believes in the primacy of excess. I was looking for a type of punishment from a band that I wasn’t finding. I tried to amalgamate the most hostile aspects of the extreme genres without the concern of cultural alienation. All I knew is that I wanted to be crushed. We’re happy to discover that others are showing that they feel similarly.
In addition to TWLB, I see there’s a fair amount of previous and concurrent experience in your ranks. Do you feel that your experience with other bands opens up a broader scope of sounds and influences you’re able to add to Vitriol? Or is this band strictly considered your vehicle for playing death metal?
Rasmussen: I myself have actually never participated in a band outside of TWLB and now Vitriol. I’d have to say that the other members’ experience doesn’t factor into the creative framework of the music as I’m the one writing it. But generally, I’d say that working with other musicians will always result in becoming a more robust one yourself and I have no doubt that (vocalist/bassist) Adam Roethlisberger and drummer Scott Walker’s previous collaborations have influenced their contributions.
To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice will be released on September 6th, 2019, via Century Media Records:
How long had you been working on To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice?
Rasmussen: It’s a hard timeframe to define. The process ebbed and flowed greatly. The oldest song on the album is “The Parting of a Neck” which was written about six years ago. The bulk of the material was written over the last three. The band has oscillated between states of being a legitimate live act and a glorified solo project over the last seven years. It not only took some time to find our footing creatively but also personally. It was a sound born from beneath a pressure that proved to be insufferable at times. Vitriol doesn’t have a history of being an easy band to participate in. There has been work required on every plane. We are very pleased that the work is being seen.
What were reactions like to the Pain Will Define Their Death EP and how/did they impact how you approached the creation of the full-length?
Rasmussen: The reaction to Pain Will Define Their Death was very rewarding. It was the first time that I could stand behind a piece of work fully. Everything leading up to that release failed to measure in with the level of oppression that I knew Vitriol had to offer before I could push the band with conviction and enthusiasm. Its reception proved to me that there are many others out there that have been craving something more severe and sincere. That was the most gratifying realization that followed the EP’s release, people were responding to our brand of devotion.
How much live work/touring did you do in support of the EP and was there anything you learned from those experiences that was applied to the album?
Rasmussen: Very little, actually. This was mainly due to a prolonged hospitalization that I experienced during the release and promotion of the EP. An undiagnosed case of Crohn’s led to a perforated intestine. The subsequent recovery halted the band’s ability to perform live for over a year. In hindsight, I’m very grateful to have gotten that out of the way. Far better that my body stifles the EP than the LP.
Watch the music video for “Victim,” off of Vitriol’s debut EP, Pain Will Define Their Death:
I see that you play as a four-piece live. Is there a particular reason you aren’t a full-time quartet?
Rasmussen: We actually have only just begun performing as a quartet live. This year’s NorthWest Terror Fest in Seattle was Mike Ashton’s first show with us as (the) second guitarist. We are now a full-time quartet, but Mike’s addition is so new that he is yet to be featured in promotional images or videos. His debut appearance with Vitriol in terms of media will likely be our first video in support of the LP.
Was there anything that was done differently in terms of the way the album was written or recorded that was different than the EP or your previous experiences with bands or in the studio?
Rasmussen: We were very happy to come into this process having learned the lessons we did while recording the previous EPs. Part of Vitriol’s strength as a band is our refusal to sterilize the human element of our sound and one of the primary shortcomings of our previously recorded material is that they lacked truly authentic sounding drums. We knew we wanted to pursue a more spatial and organic approach to a style of performance that is often only heard on the other end of heavy quantizing and hit replacement. We also have never been able to fully represent the scope of Adam’s melodic contributions on bass. The work he did on this album is unprecedented and it was extremely important that we showcase all of his tricks. We ended up using a Fortin mod-ed 1979 Marshall JMP, the same amp that was used to record the guitars, in conjunction with a conventional bass tone to achieve such an audible and aggressive bass tone. Pretty fucking cool!
What is the significance or story behind the album’s title?
Rasmussen: If Vitriol were to define itself in opposition to one thing it would be cowardice and its consequential spiritual cancers. When allowed to fester the tendrils of victimhood take root, robbing one of their ability to aspire to and mobilize great things. It serves as a fog that hides the truth of your responsibility as a person. It is an especially dangerous social opiate in a time where it is easier than ever to find refuge in a curated group of sycophants while insulating yourself from valuable critique, primarily your own. Denying that opiate is the bedrock on which Vitriol was built and this album was made.
The band’s debut EP, Pain Will Define Their Death, dropped on November 10, 2017. Stream it here:
How did you end up signed to Century Media?
Rasmussen: Our playthrough video for “The Parting of a Neck” was certainly the ‘breakthrough’ moment. Ironic, with it being the earliest written song and lowest investment piece of media we made up to that point. It taught us the value a physical performance can have in contextualizing the music that’s being heard. Philipp Schulte of Century Media sent me a very convincing email explaining his interest and perception of the band. What a band is and what that band can be in its early stages is such an amorphous thing. People often underestimate how differently one band can be perceived by various listeners or viewers. It was crucial for us in this formative stages that we align ourselves with someone who shares our vision of what Vitriol is and what it should be, and Philipp is that man and Century Media is that label.
What was working with Joe Petagno like? Was the cover idea mostly yours or his and were you at all intimidated when having to ask an experienced album cover artist to make changes and alterations to drafts of the cover?
Rasmussen: I spent a very long time meditating on whose work would best frame the spirit of this release. I arrived at the belief that anyone other than Joe Petagno would’ve been a consolation. Joe’s body of work defines the fire and rebellious spirit that I hold most dear about extreme music. Even in the absence of his legacy as Lemmy’s right-hand visual man, his work with Angelcorpse, Krisiun, Diabolic, Perdition Temple, Abhorrence, and the list goes on ties him with what I consider to be the peak of death metal’s creative direction, a sound that shaped Vitriol’s approach greatly.
Working with Joe Petagno was fucking surreal. I actually reached out to him nearly four years ago in preparation for this project. He was very gracious and had kind things to say about the lyrical work on some of the earlier tracks that I had provided him before any actual music had been recorded. We exchanged very detailed emails about what the cover needs to say. The project began before I had decided on a title for the album and when that title arrived the concept for the cover came with it. I knew I wanted to see the head on its side, knife in its throat, with very Petagno-esque depictions of weakness being buried beneath contempt surrounding it. I explained to him that while I wanted it to depict his iconic flare, I wanted something unprecedentedly and starkly human. How he realized that vision exceeded all expectations. It’s a truly special cover and I’m deeply honoured to be associated with it.
“Crowned In Retaliation” is another new track to be featured on To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice:
You’re heading to Europe for the first time with Nile and Hate Eternal shortly after the album’s release. How did you score that spot so quickly out of the gate and what are your thoughts about it going in?
Rasmussen: We secured this opportunity the same way we secure all of our opportunities, through basic and rigorous rituals in the dark arts, of course… No, to be honest, I’m just as floored as everyone else. Humbled and grateful are words that only glance in the direction of what I’m feeling. Even outside of my personal relationship with the work of those bands, the scale of this opportunity for Vitriol this early in our career is not lost on us. This is a remarkable opportunity that everyone, including ourselves, is counting on us taking full advantage of. Extreme metal accepting our worth on this tour depends on us putting everything we have into the preparations for it. If I wasn’t so convinced of my own love and devotion for this culture, and the time we have spent grinding behind the scenes, I’d feel we didn’t deserve it. It is our responsibility now to inform everyone else of that love and devotion through what we bring to the stage every night. We’re only asking for the opportunity to prove to everyone that we belong there.
All of that aside, Nile and Hate Eternal are two of my most cherished bands. To regard either band as anything less than a musical and cultural titan is to be on the wrong side of history. Conquering the Throne is my favourite death metal album ever. That’s my desert island album and the one I’d blame for being the closest thing to the sole inspiration for Vitriol’s sound. Hate Eternal’s influence on our sound is a torch we carry proudly. Nile’s uncompromisingly ambitious spirit in terms of their songwriting and digestible technicality completely informed the scope of our sound. Nile’s Karl (Sanders) and (Hate Eternal’s) Erik (Rutan) are very real heroes to me. I can say that this tour, with all sincerity, is a dream-come-true. The stakes are very high.
Email interviews are always great for time and convenience, but I always feel like something is missing. Is there anything that hasn’t been touched on that you feel needs to be touched on?
Rasmussen: When the album is released on September 6th, I urge those who honor us by listening to do so without the burden of a genre’s expectation. This was a piece of work made very carefully by people who have a deep appreciation for the full breadth of extreme and aggressive music. This album will be most effective on those who believe that the virtues of extreme music transcend the conversation of genre. I also want to thank you for the very thoughtful and rewarding questions, this has been a joy. Here’s to many more conversations down the road!