SORROW (USA) – slow death metal band from the beginning of the ’90s
Answers by Brett Clarin (guitars)
Brett, do you still remember for how long have you been in metal and how did you discover that music? What made you to be a metal head back then?
I guess I started listening to metal when I was about 9 or 10 (mid to late 70’s). I have pictures of me as a kid wearing Ted Nugent and Aerosmith shirts. Although, that may be considered hard rock. Fast forward a few years and I was really into hardcore, Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, DRI, etc. I picked up a copy of Slayer “Hell Awaits” when it came out in 1985 because a friend of mine had bought it too. I still remember the first time I listened to it. It blew me away, changed my life and I have never been the same since!
At which point did you start playing guitar? What were your influences to become musician?
I played guitar when I was young, but not much. I picked it up again at the end of high school. A friend who was into the same music starting to play drums and we started to jam together. Oh, that person was Mike H., the same drummer from Sorrow!
Were you self taught or…? Do you play perhaps other instruments too?
Basically I was self taught. I had taken a few lessons here and there, but not many. As a child, I did play piano so that helped me learn about music at an early age.
What about your early footsteps and experiences as musician? Was Apparition the first band that you got involved in?
Before Apparition, it was me and Mike (drummer) and another Mike who played bass. We called ourselves ‘Cyanic Death’. We played really bad thrash metal, but it was fun.
How did the band get exactly? What about the musical background of all of you?
I don’t remember exactly how we started, but me and Mike formed Apparition in about 1987. We had a friend Rich who brought down Rob (singer) and Andy (guitar). I may be getting the details a little wrong! Mike, Rich and I were into death and thrash metal and also hardcore. Rob was more into thrash and King Diamond. Andy, was more into less extreme metal and also into guitar metal like yngwie malmsteen. At the time, Andy was writing more thrash type songs and I was writing more death type songs. Eventually we decided we wanted to play death metal not thrash. Rob’s vocals were more thrash and he didn’t really want to play death metal so we decided to have Rich and Andy sing.
How about the New York scene at this point? Were you familiar with acts, such as Winter, Ripping Corpse, Prime Evil, Revenant etc. that started popping at the same time as you?
We were very familiar with them! We would play shows with them and trade demos, etc. You forgot Immolation! Actually, bands like Winter and Immolation had an influence on our music too. At the time, most of those bands were from Westchester, a county just north of Manhattan. There weren’t any other death metal bands from Long Island, although there were plenty of thrash bands. This was before Suffocation took over the world!
Tell us please about your rehearsals! Did you start writing originals or were you jamming mostly on covers?
We started out with originals and never really did any covers. Rehearsals were serious to us, we really wanted to be tight. We started out in Mike’s basement until Rich got into a fight with someone and went through one of Mike’s walls. We then had a studio in a basement of a music store which was a real shitty place. Eventually we went back to Mike’s basement. His mother let us jam in her basement for 5 years!! The neighbors hated us.
You recorded your first demo at the Songwriters Center in Valley Stream, NY. (produced by Bill Pulice and Apparition), was it your very first studio experience?
Yes, this was our first studio experience.
How was the demo recorded?
Bill Pulice was a nightmare. He tried to be this big producer and he was a real asshole. I think we recoded separately, which was not necessary. It would have been much better to record together. In the mix, we told him to do things and he wouldn’t do them. Or he would add things into the mix that we said not to. I am not sure if it was 8 or 16 tracks at the time. I think I still have the original reels!
Do you agree with, that you started as a pretty straight ahead thrash act, tackling things with mostly Testament/Slayer? Can you tell us details regarding the demo?
Yes, definitely thrash. One of the riffs is right off of Testament “the legacy”. I was writing more death/thrash (like Possessed) and Andy was writing straight thrash.
How much promotion did you do for the demo and through which channels was it distributed back then? Did this demo make a name for the band at all?
We promoted this demo by sending out copies to zines and any radio stations that would play metal. Bill Pulice was supposed to help us, but he was basically worthless. We did a lot of demo trading and tried to play lots of shows. We did get some exposure and some good reviews. Of course, some were bad too! We started to get a small number of fans.
Why did vocalist Rob Hernandez leave the band after the first demo?
He wanted to sing thrash, and we wanted death.
You entered the Doom Studios in 1989 to record your next material titled „Human fear”, did you throw more rampage into your previous slightly above-generic sound by brawling past thrash’s border and smack dab into the poison-barbed collision of death and doom metal? Did you turn conscious into that direction or would you name it a natural progression?
This was a conscience decision to go death/doom. Mike, Rich and I were really into death metal and the first demo and first songs we had were not heavy enough. We had a talk to Andy, and we decided that we were going to drop ALL of our old songs and write new ones. “Human Fear” became the new direction for us.
How do you view, that molten thrash riffs have become thirsty for darker, more distorted as the guitars have fallen into a slightly deeper tone, creating a crevice from where the group’s newly-quaked doom arises?
As death metal evolved in the late 80’s with bands like Morbid Angel, Immolation, Death, the first Sepultura record, we were just completely absorbed by it. We wanted to be completely heavy and doomy. The guitars just had to get heavy and deeper so we started to tune down and write more and more gloomy riffs.
Dynamism pulls several breakdowns and build-ups into realms more dramatic and powerful, correct?
Yes, it is important to have changes in the songs to allow build ups and emotional outbursts. Song structure was very important to us and I personally spent hours and hours arranging my songs. I don’t want to sound like a pretentious art asshole, but the songs should be like sex, you build up for the big release and then come off it feeling satisfied.
How did happen, that the vocal duties were split between Andy Marchione and Ritch Figlia? Didn’t you start searching a singer instead of Rob?
After Rob left, Rich and Andy wanted to try out the vocals. Both of them had good death metal vocals, but Andy’s vocals were just so good that he stayed on singing.
Under the name of Apparition you released a 7” EP called „Eternally forgotten/Curse the sunrise”, do you agree with, that these two songs of old-school thrashy death metal bounce their way from riff to riff in a way not unlike Autopsy, and even the vocals share similarities with Chris Reifert’s hoarse grunts?
Very similar to Autopsy. In fact, I think Autopsy was the band that we shared most in common with musically. Although not lyrically. It’s funny that Autopsy was so far away from us, we both developed a similar style but I don’t think either of us heard our music before we released our demos. So it was a coincidence that we had a similar sound.
Albeit not as dark and grimy as Autopsy, Apparition does evoke some menacing imagery, implementing slow crawling riffs and tortured, moaning guitar solos among thrashier lumps of noise, how do you view it?
Autopsy had a very raw sound, our sound was a little more polished.
A couple of passages with odd rhythms find their way into the songs, but this experimentation never goes overboard, and the band keeps its act together rather well, correct?
We weren’t a prog metal band, but we did want to have complexity to our music. But not too much. Some bands are so technical that you cant remember what the melody of the songs are! We went for a heavy, doomy sound but not to simplistic.
You had unequivocally progressed into the stylistic realms of death metal, haven’t you?
Yes, that was our goal.
The EP was released by Relapse, does it mean that you sign them? Did the second promising demo would eventually yell in the ear of them?
We didn’t sign with them. It was very early on for relapse, we were the third release. Mike was friendly with Matt Jacobson through mail and demo trading. For our third demo, we went into a real studio and got a good sounding recording. Mike sent it to Matt and Matt asked to put out the 7 inch and we said sure. That demo was 4 songs, Matt put 2 of them on the 7 inch. It eventually became the “Forgotten Sunrise” EP that we did with Roadrunner.
At which point did you get in touch with Roadrunner? What kind of contract did they offer you and for how many records did you sign them?
Suffocation had just signed with Roadrunner. Mike was friends with the guys from Suffocation, and also our ex-bass player Chris Richards played with Suffocation. Roadrunner was having a Chirstmas party and Mike went with Suffo to their offices. Mike smartly put our demo in the tape player and a week layer Monte Conner from Roadrunner, who did most of the signing at the time, called us. He will say it was his biggest mistake LOL .They offered us a 7 album contract and of course we signed.
How did you find the status of Roadrunner in the underground scene at this point? Would you say, that they had a lot of promising, established death/thrash acts, such as Exhorder, Sepultura, Obituary, Defiance, Suffocation etc.?
Roadrunner had a business model, sign every act from a style of music and maybe 2 or 3 of them will make some money. So they were signing every death metal act they could find. I liked some of the bands and I didn’t like some of the bands. Monte did like metal, but they were running a business and wanted to make money. I understand that.
Why did Roadrunner suggest a name change? Who came up with the moniker Sorrow?
Roadrunner didn’t really force us to change and I think we wanted to change the name anyway. I came up with the name Sorrow and we all liked it. Actually, they wanted us to change the cover of the first EP (Forgotten Sunrise), it showed a garbage dump in someone’s crying eye (that was my eye by the way!) they hated that cover, it wasn’t metal enough! Looking back, I think I agree with them. The cover was pretty bad and we look terrible on the back! Although I still like the concept (we were 15 years ahead of our time!), it certainly didn’t help sell records. We are all guilty of buying records because the cover looks cool. And that was not the case with our cover.
At which point did you take part ways with Rich Figlia? What were the reasons of his departure?
Rich was showing up for practices late and sometimes not at all. So we decided it was best for him to leave the band.
Chris Richards (Suffocation) was playing bass in Sorrow too, wasn’t he?
Yes. For about a year we tried out bass players, most did not fit what we were looking for. A lot of the people trying out for the band were more interested in playing in any band. We wanted someone who was into our music and wanted to play with us specifically. Chris was into our music and into death metal and he was great at bass.
When did you enter the Sunset Studios to record the „Forgotten sunrise” EP? How did the recording sessions go?
I think we went in sometime in 1990. We decided to go into a ‘real’ studio and spend some money and get a good sounding demo. We knew that we would use this to try to get signed. The sessions went fine, they were a lot of fun and everything went well. At the time, Andy was 100% and his guitar playing was fantastic. Way better than my playing. If you listen to the solos, Andy’s are just 1000 times better than mine!
The material included the songs of the 7” EP, but when did you write „Awaiting the savior” and „A wasted cry for hope”?
All the material that ended up on the ‘Forgotten Sunrise’ was written at the same time, sometime around 1989-1990.
How much did you change or develope both musicwise and lyricswise compared to the Apparition demos?
The change in musicianship for myself and Mike (drums) was huge. Both of us starting playing at the same time, about 2 years before the Apparition demo. So we progressed tremendously as we turned into Sorrow. Andy however, was an amazing guitarist before he joined Apparition. He had been playing since he was a kid. Mike and I were amazed that he wanted to play with us since he was so much better!!! My songwriting became a bit more melodic as I went on, heaviness was always paramount, but I wanted a lot of melody too. The lyrics at first were more ‘horror/gore’, but very quickly the lyrics turned social and personal. Mike and I have a lot to say, so we used the lyrics to reflect our opinions at the time.
Did Sorrow have every intention of standing alongside these luminaries (the aforementioned bands) with the release of their first album?
Not at all. In fact, I tend to think we fell through the cracks. I appreciate your kind words! But I think most people have forgotten about us.
Is it true, that this release had to be a mini-LP since Andy was involved in an unfortunate accident and was unable to go into the studio to record additional tracks? What happened exacty?
Andy and Lisa were in Andy’s car and carbon monoxide leaked in from the running engine. They both passed out. Unfortunately Lisa died from carbon monoxide poising and Andy went into a coma. Andy went through years of physical rehabilitation.
The recording plans had to be delayed and in an conjunction with Roadrnner you released the EP, does it mean, that you originally wanted to record a full length?
Originally we were going to record a whole new full length for Roadrunner. But after the accident, Andy was not able to play guitar so we opted to release the 4 songs as an EP rather than wait a year to do a new full length.
The EP was dedicated to the memory of Lisa Thompsen who was not as fortunate as Andy, right?
The death metal style heard on „Forgotten Sunrise” was neither as frenzied nor as satanically inspired as that of band’s fellow New York area bands, like Suffocation and Immolation and instead, the group’s lyrics dealt in more realistic subjects (religious hypocrisy on „Awaiting the Savior”, environmental concerns on „A Wasted Cry for Hope”) and your music mixed speed with doom-slow tempos in a fashion reminiscent of Autopsy, correct?
Yeah, we had a different style than the other death metal bands coming out of NY. We liked speed, but we wanted more doom, slow and heavy riffs mixed in more. For the lyrics, as I mentioned before, Mike and I have a lot of opinions that we are happy to share! Also, I listened to a lot of punk and hardcore so that is where my lyrics came from.
Did this EP help you to draw fans attention to the band?
A little. We never became a best seller! In fact, Roadrunner wanted to drop us after the EP came out! They didn’t even want to do the first full length. We talked them into letting us record ‘Hatred and Disgust’. But when they put it out, they already knew that they were going to drop us. So we never really got any support from Roadrunner at all. They wouldn’t even help us tour!
A lot of doom/death bands started making a name for themselves at this point, it happened a kind of doom metal boom, with bands, such as Winter, Revelation, Upside Down Cross, Anathema, My Dying Bride etc., what were your views on it?
I liked all those bands, but we still tried to keep more death metal in the music. Some of the bands went more gothic and rock n roll.
You became four piece again, since guitarist Billy Rogan joined the band, what about his musical past? Did you audition other guitarists too, besides him?
Billy was a good friend of ours for years and he played guitar really well. When Andy was better, he started playing bass instead of guitar because it was easier for him at the time. (No offense to bass players, it had to do with his picking hand) so we figured it would be a good idea to let Billy play with us. He was really into metal and our music. We never bothered to audition anyone else. I don’t remember the bands that Billy was in, but none of them were serious.
Did he have a big hand in the songwriting? When did you start writing the material for the debut record „Hatred and disgust” exactly?
He didn’t start to write songs until after ‘Hatred and Disgust’ came out. We wrote HD over several years. Some of the songs were written back when we did the ‘human fear’ demo and some were done right before we went into the studio.
The album was recorded at the Speed Of Sound Recording, what about the recording sessions?
They went pretty smooth, no real stories to tell! We recorded the album playing at the same time, but each instrument tracked to a separate track. The solos and vocals were done after the rhythm was recorded.
How much time did it take to record the album? Did you have a decent budget to record the material?
I think we recorded the album in 2 or 3 session, each about 10 hours long. And I think we had $2500 to record.
Is „Hatred and disgust” definitely real doom?
It’s not 100% doom, it’s a blend if death and doom. Plus, we do play fast (not blast fast like Suffo!) so I guess we can’t be called 100% doom. But a lot of the melodies are doom.
Most of these songs do have faster sections, usually given over to extended squealy soloing, definitely you have your own riffs here, and they are truly pulverizing, aren’t they?
I like to think they are pulverizing! But I don’t want to toot my own horn.
Listening to the songs, Autopsy comes to my mind, but you were more complex than they, how do you see it?
There’s definitely a similarity between Autopsy and us. There recordings were more raw than ours though. I think our production was a bit more polished. Our songs were longer and had more parts, so I guess you can say we were more complex. But I wouldn’t say we were more talented at all!
Are the doomy sections complex and captivating, and your thrash breaks are flawlessly executed?
The melodies of the songs were very important to us. Having haunting and melodic riffs were the main focus of my songwriting, rather than trying to have very intricate and odd-timing riffs. But some of the doom riffs still had some complexity to them. The thrash breaks were not flawless!! There are small mistakes in the songs and there was even one song where Andy plays one of my parts because my wrist was too tired to play it!
The vocals are a deep, but rather intelligible growl brutal and perfect for the music, they are an excellent, deep growl that still manages to be very intelligible, correct?
One of the best and unique things about Andy’s voice was his ability to growl but yet still pronounce the words. Andy is one of my favorite death metal singers!
Do you think, that there’s definitely some original touches here, such as the guitarists' use of eerie broken chording to introduce songs or to bridge the slower and faster sections?
Yes, I like to think we were original to some degree. We spent a lot of time on song structure and bridges between parts.
Excluding the pair on the ’90 single, „Human Error” would be the only song from Apparition’s demos recreated in the name of Sorrow, how did it happen?
Most of the old songs were just not heavy enough. But HE was one of my best songs that I ever wrote, it had to be recorded again in a real studio!
What do you think about, that Sorrow play Autopsy/Winter-like ultra oppressive Death/Doom-metal and the music is filled with a thick and oppressive guitar sound and gut wrenching grunts?
Basically, I wrote songs that I wanted to hear.
Did you musically come very close to Winter and were probably the second band after Winter to dare and play such oppressive, unnerving style of Death/Doom-metal?
There are definitely some riffs we had that are close to Winter, but Winter took it to the extreme. Whereas we would have several ultra slow parts mixed with mid tempo and fast parts, Winter would just make it painful! With Winter, you were always waiting for a song to kick in, but it never did. The name is perfect except they should have added ‘Antarctic’ Winter! I can’t say if we were the second band to add that style, but we were one of the early ones.
A very bleak, emotionless oppression runs throughout their songs, how do you explain this?
I can’t explain it! It is incredible the emptiness you feel when you listen to Winter. I guess it is the fact that the songs creep along so slowly that most people couldn’t even play that slow for the length of time they do.
You do deserve some credit for at least trying to be different; not only did you refuse to entertain your label’s demands that you utilize Scott Burns’ production and Dan Seagrave artwork for the debut album, „Hatred and Disgust”, like most every other band on the scene; you also draped your songs with elements of various death metal subgenres, without quite committing entirely to any of them, how do you view it?
We didn’t try to be different, but it did come out that way. None of us were very found of the Scott Burns’ production, I thought there was too much presence (high end) in his work. The sound we wanted needed to be more mid to low end to help the melody of the guitars to stick out. Obviously Scott was a genius, many people love his work, it just wasn’t right for our sound. The same for Dan Seagrave. We wanted our cover to be less fantasy and more to convey a message. The music is a mixture of different styles of metal and even a little hardcore snuck in. But again, we didn’t try to do this. I would just write a song that I would enjoy being able to listen to.
Would you say, that the best distinguishing qualities was how you used these predominant slow passages to set up thrilling bursts of speed thrashing, often marked by sizzling melodic solos on the likes of „Insatiable”, „Illusion of Freedom” and the colossal epic, „Unjustified Reluctance”?
Yes, I think this did distinguish us from others to some degree. The changes in tempo I thought were a great way to keep a song interesting. It enables you to build up and to come down from different parts. It makes the song a story, with different elements, but they all tied together. Obviously we were not the first to put in tempo changes!! But I do think we were one of the first to put in such extreme changes.