Hunt To Survive
Impressionable readers of Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind’s Lords Of Chaos extremo bible will tell you that death metal died when black metal took a torch to the underground and some Norwegian churches in the 1990s. They’ll cite the ubiquity of Mayhem and Burzum, and perhaps Darkthrone, disregarding the fact that the authors also breathlessly extol the virtues of a small army of proud theistic randoms, especially those with a worldview cynical or oxygen-deprived enough to have made the leap from violent art to violent crime. And in the process of living vicariously through this largely foreign fantasy, in which bands are assessed by their pants, shoes, and nationality, the susceptible readers miss out on what is happening in their own backyard. Like fuckin’ death.
Dave Matrise (Jungle Rot) answers the phone and agrees to an impromptu interview; he’s working on the van outside his Wisconsin log cabin. The no-nonsense vocalist/guitarist of Kenosha-based death metal staple Jungle Rot plods inside, where mounts of the various animals he has “harvested” with the aid of bullets, arrows, and four Labradors decorate each room. “My uncle was an avid hunter,” he recalls with a note of humility. “He took me out hunting every weekend. I started out hunting when I was like 7 or 8, walking the field before I could carry a gun. And I remember the day I turned 12, he bought me a shotgun. I still got it to this day.”
From November to April, Matrise works for a private hunting preserve, introducing “very important and very famous” clients to the thrill of the chase. “It’s my therapy, it really is,” he says, 25 years on the job. “It’s not about the kill. It’s just about being out there in the outdoors. I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve harvested so many animals, I don’t need to harvest another one. It’s just the respect for being out there. That’s why a lot of guides become guides.” As for the unheralded Jungle Rot, Matrise’s other job, the deadly hunt continues. Guide yourself to the next harvest, Nov. 6 at Another Hole In The Wall in Steger, when Jungle Rot supports Six Feet Under.
Mosh: What motivates you to keep playing death metal as Jungle Rot nears its 20th anniversary?
Dave Matrise: I write for myself, first of all. That’s the main thing. I write all my music on an acoustic guitar. I don’t ever write it on an electric guitar. I really dig the style. I think there’s still a purpose for this kind of music. A lot of your kids today, your drummers, they grew up on Hate Eternal and Deeds Of Flesh, and all that hyperspeed blast. The level’s just too high, man. There’s gotta be something different. There’s gotta be some flavor, and that’s what we’re here for. There are not too many bands doing this anymore . . . It’s us, Obituary, Six Feet Under. Only the strong survive in this kind of music, and we’re here.
M: We’re in the midst of a federal government shutdown at the time of this interview. I’m reminded of “Voice Your Disgust” on Jungle Rot’s crushing, cautionary new album, Terror Regime (Victory): “Condition red . . . no administration . . . proficient beast.” Jungle Rot isn’t a “political band,” per se, but what does Dave Matrise have to say about the shutdown?
DM: I really don’t know what to think anymore. My main thing is not thinking about the government. I’m just thinking about the people who ain’t getting paid and the people who are suffering again from the bullshit. It always comes down to the hard-working Americans who pay the price. I think the majority of people, that’s what they think. Fuck the government.
M: I can’t think of any other old-school metal bands on Victory, which has long specialized in hardcore. How did you end up on the Chicago label?
DM: I’ve known Tony [Brummel, founder] for quite a while. I’ve been working him, trying to sign . . . I knew they didn’t have a big roster of death metal, but he still supported the underground. And their marketing, you could see it everywhere: videos, advertising. They were just one of the best, like Relapse. We’d see it out there. They were a hard-working label. But what attracted us the most was [the likelihood that we would be] the only death metal band on it, so we knew we were going to get major priority on it. Coming off other labels: Napalm, Century Media, Olympic, they’re used to putting out 20 death metal bands a month, and only one would get the support, we learned over the years. Signing to Victory is the best thing we’ve ever done.
M: Hatebreed‘s first full-length came out on Victory, and frontman Jamey Jasta re-released Jungle Rot’s Skin The Living demo on his Pure Death label in the mid-’90s. Did the Jasta connection have something to do with Jungle Rot landing on Victory?
DM: It’s possible. Me and Tony still talk about that all the time, man, because Jamey was trying to get us to sign [with Victory] back then, when we put out that demo. We laugh and we joke about it. The question we always ask ourselves is: “Where would Jungle Rot be if we would have signed with them back on that demo?” We really could have been one of the big ones, man. I mean, that has kind of hurt the band. We were going through a lot of label changes. We never really found a label that believed in us.
M: What happened to your 2008 deal with Austrian label Napalm?
DM: We basically signed a one-time deal with them. They had the option to pick us up on a second [album], and they didn’t want to pick it up. I mean, great label. Things weren’t good for us in the United States at the time. We really had a bad problem with a booking agency in the United States. Our biggest hype was in Europe at the time, so we were keying in on a new label, in Europe, and Napalm was the one. Napalm is huge. I don’t know if you know anything about them, but in Europe, they’re like one of the biggest. They do billboards; they do everything, [but] even when I was on Napalm, I was still working Victory, trying to get Victory for the United States.
M: Someone did an amazing job transforming the original demo-tape artwork of Skin The Living to fit CD/LP dimensions in this year’s remastered reissue. It’s as though Victory added more jungle to the cover art.
DM: That’s exactly what they did, man. I just wanted to make sure that nothing was changed. That’s how I wanted it to look, and that’s how it came out. And we couldn’t be happier. We wanted to put that demo out [again] for some time now, and I still think that demo stands the test of time. And it does, man. We still play songs off that thing live, and it’s just a real treat for us. And we got it on vinyl, and vinyl’s hot as hell right now. It’s selling, man. Whew!
M: Skin The Living is really slick for a demo from 1995. Did you have Sindrome‘s work at Morrisound in mind while recording it?
DM: Yeah. You wanted it to come out as good [as Sindrome], but we had a weapon. We’ve always had [Belle City Sound producer] Chris Djuricic in our corner. That thing was actually recorded on an eight-track studio. I mean, he just really knew what he was doing. A lot of it has to do with the band itself. You gotta come in prepared, and you gotta know your tones, but Chris did a great job. That was a stepping stone for us, and it still rocks. I love the sound, and I love the snare. I love the drum production. I love it all.
M: The reissue’s liner notes indicates bassist Joe Carlino died. What happened?
DM: He was one of my best friends. Before we did the Malevolent [Creation] tour in ’99, somehow he ended up getting hooked on heroin and overdosed a week before we were leaving. It was a shocker to me. I remember doing that tour and collapsing three, four days later . . . I remember talking to my ma; she was at the funeral. It was really rough, man. I was on the road; my friend just died. I just remember I ended up collapsing and spending a couple days in the hospital, dehydrated and everything else. But the show must go on . . . That’s how I ended up getting Chris Djuricic [temporarily] in the band. He recorded the demo, and he knew the band.
M: Didn’t Jungle Rot’s Rip Off Your Face come out before Skin The Living?
DM: Yeah, that was a demo. They actually put that out before me [with] another singer [Joe Thomas of Prisoner]. Then the singer wasn’t working out, and I was between bands. I used to play with a band called Num Skull. I was playing guitar, and I was really looking to step it up, and sing and play. That was my thing. Back then, the German invasion came in. Destruction and Sodom really influenced me to get behind the mic.
M: Do you acknowledge Jungle Rot having more of a sense of humor back then than today? Markus Launsburry of Dementox said Jungle Rot was initially a joke side-project to Prisoner.
DM: What happened is [ex-Jungle Rot drummer] Jim Harte was playing in Prisoner at the time, and [Thomas] was playing guitar . . . and it just wasn’t happening, and they started Jungle Rot. Back then, there was a lot of S.O.D., if you remember. They were really influenced by a lot of that S.O.D. — the short songs, more in that hardcore, deathcore vein. In my opinion, I still think Jungle Rot is one of the first bands that did any kind of deathcore. You know, the death groove, deathcore. That’s why I liked them, man. It was special back then, and I noticed it.
M: Jeremy Wagner of Broken Hope told me Prisoner played 90 percent covers, so I’m not sure which band would have been the side-project.
DM: Exactly, man [laughs]. I don’t know much about Prisoner. I mean, back in Num Skull . . . I remember we did a couple shows with them. That’s how I actually met Jim Harte, and it just went from there. But I never really paid attention to their music.
M: You’re friends with Shaun Glass of Broken Hope and Sindrome fame, who guested on War Zone in 2006. He was in [Oppressor/Broken Hope spinoff] Soil at the time. Did you ever consider going the active-rock route like Soil did when death metal was in a rut?
DM: I talk to him every day. Never considered it. Like I said in the beginning, we never quit. We’ve always been here, and I just hope the industry pays note of that . . . We’re almost like a Slayer, that’s how I consider ourselves. We should be applauded for what we did, what we do. We stay true to ourselves. That’s what we’re all about. I don’t know what Shaun was going through back then. Death metal fell apart, and he [temporarily] bailed I think when Broken Hope got dropped from Metal Blade. Maybe he thought they would never get signed again or something? I have no idea . . . Even the guys in Oppressor: The labels went down, and they didn’t want to keep going. They just jumped [onto] the next hype. That’s what they did, man. I guess they didn’t believe in their bands . . . Deicide, all of us were still there. But the ones who didn’t believe in it anymore just left. The question today is: Do we give respect back to them now that they want back in? I don’t know [laughs]. That is the question. What’s the answer?
Jungle Rot appears Nov. 6 at Another Hole In The Wall in Steger, supporting Six Feet Under.
MOSH-WORTHY . . . LIVE: Absu (Cobra Lounge, 11/10); Pelican (Bottom Lounge, 11/13); Funeral Nation, Bones (Reggie’s, 11/17); Gorguts (Cobra Lounge, 12/15); Macabre, Cardiac Arrest (Reggie’s, 12/26).
MOSH-WORTHY: Convulse Evil Prevails (Svart); The Spits Kill The Kool (In The Red); Iceage “To The Comrades” single (Matador/Escho); Corrections House Last City Zero (Neurot); Toe Tag Here She Comes Again (self-released).