Heart of Steel: Interviews

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Interview With Monstrosity's Lee Harrison
Interview By Arto Lehtinen

 

Long time Florida’s death metallers Monstrosity have achieved a reputation as one of the hardest working bands doing gigs and tours regularly, even though the publishing of a new album may take some years. The band itself has battled through the years since the early 90’s and faced both up and downs, especially with a few line up changes that have plagued the band’s history. But the battles goes on, and the new album is expected to see the light of day - hopefully by the end of this year. The drummer of this legendary Florida deathsters Lee Harrison found some time to answer to my megalomaniac interview.

 

Good day Lee! Let's start the whole massive interview with the common opening question:  what's up there in Florida and in the Monstrosity camp at the moment?

I've been assembling footage for a DVD that will be released after the new album is released. I'm starting now, that way I'll have plenty of time to work on it and upgrade it. The new album is written and I've already started writing the next album. We are bringing Jason Avery back into the band and we will record the album shortly. We have a show scheduled for May 3rd in Puerto Rico so we are looking forward to that too.

 

TOURING AROUND AND BELOW

Let's get straight to your tour news, as Monstrosity visited Europe twice during this year with the entire European tour covering Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium. The second attack happened only in Poland. How was the first tour around Europe? What kind of reception did you get from the local audience, and what was the best and wildest place where you visited?

I personally liked Italy, Slovenia, Paris, and Poland. It was all really good actually. Certain places are better than others but that usually depends on the circumstances. There was only one show that I would say was bad, and on a death metal tour that's pretty good.

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Then you did the Poland tour consisting of 10 gigs during approximately two weeks. How did this opportunity come about after all?

Even though it was two separate tours, it was just one big tour for us. Both parts of the tour were cool though. There were positives and negatives for both parts, but really the negatives weren't so bad really.

 

 

Early this year you did a few Central and South American dates, Mexico and Brazil in front of over 1000 maniacs. Is it a little bit amazing that you usually pull such amount of people to your show in South America, whereas you mainly pull approximately 300-500 people to gigs in the states? Do you view the South American metal heads as more dedicated to metal than metal cousins in the US, or what do you consider the reason for this?

We definitely prefer South America over any other place in the world. We have always had great shows there. They understand our music because they live it. Here in America and even some places of Europe they get shows all the time so they don't respect it anymore. It's like every week is a different show but we love to play anywhere, so it really doesn't bother us too much. We can play for 30 or 3000. We try to make a good show either way. Sometimes in America it gets a little ridiculous but we try to keep going and just plug ahead.

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Didn't you say the gig in Peru had a minor riot that the local riot cops arrived and shot tear gas around? Any other "hot" and "gas-filled" gig experiences?

The show we had in Bogota was like that too. I love it. I think it's great when we can cause a riot. That's brutality. It sucked because we couldn't play our full set but just being there was so cool. I had never even envisioned what Bogota would look like much less think about playing there or planning on that. It was amazing. We met some really cool people there and it's really a killer city. Same with Peru. We had a great time at both places.

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Where and how do you usually pick up opening and support bands for your tours?

It really depends on who is booking the tour. We try to make suggestions but mostly we are offered a tour and depending on the terms we decide to do it or not. It's up to the promoter or the headliners usually.

 

 

ENSLAVING LINE-UP CHANGES

Whenever Monstrosity is interviewed for any mag, it is more than logical that questions in some point of the interview start dealing with the line-ups, so the same thing here too. I guess you may get a little bit freaked out, but let's be honest and straight now: Monstrosity is usually remembered as the ex-band of George Fisher for obvious reasons, but does it usually bug you in a way or another that Fisher and Monstrosity are both linked together although Fisher's departure happened almost ten years ago?

It doesn't bother us, but it's just hard to believe people don't understand the situation after this long. I think they are just trying to make us talk shit about George or something. We're still cool with George so its not even an issue to us. We did a one-off reunion show awhile back and it was insane. Right now he's doing his thing and we're doing ours. If people check our band out because of that connection that is fine. Pat O'Brien was in our band before joining Cannibal too, but a lot of people don't realize that either because he never played on one of our albums. He did the "Extremities" tour we did in 1997 with Vader and Broken Hope.

 

 

Jason Avery stepped in and was involved in Monstrosity several years until he pulled out last year, but I can't help asking why he decided to withdraw from the band, cause you are doing pretty well anyway. Did he face some sort of personal problems in the private life? Did you have so-called famous musical disagreements?

No, the main disagreement was with touring. Jason wasn't ready to go back on the road and we were. We just wanted to keep the ball rolling so we did. Now Jason is ready to tour again and get back into it so we have brought him back. I think a lot of our older fans like Jason's voice as much if not more than George's.

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Then a new vocalist Sam Moline was recruited to fill the vocalist spot. Where does he come from, and what kind of background does he have before teaming up with you?

Sam played guitar with a local band from Ft. Myers Florida, and thats how we found him. He was doing back up vocals too so thats how we knew he could sing. It was strange how it happened but it actually worked out pretty good. We are working with him to take the second guitar spot now.

 

 

Beside you and Sam Molina, the current Monstrosity line up consists of Pat Hall, Mike Poggione and Tony Norman. You and Norman are the remaining guys from the In Dark Purity album, but instead Pat Hall as well as Mike Poggione are the new dudes in the band. Could you politely shed some light on their background as well?

Pat Hall has been out of the band for awhile now. He ended up joining the Army so he is doing that now. He called me a few weeks ago from Korea, so he's over there now. He was always kind of a gun nut so it makes sense for him. Mike has been in the band since 1999. He did all the touring in support of In Dark Purity and played on the Enslaving live disc. Even Sam has been in the band over a year and a half.

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But to be honest, Monstrosity have undergone more than a few line-up changes, as guys have come in and then left the band for all kinds of reasons. But what type of problems have these either expected or then unexpected departures of various guys brought to you and the band? Have you ever thought of giving up because of those line up hassles, and just focusing on running your label business?

Of course you can have doubts, but if it is feasible to keep going why not? The way I've always figured it is why should I stop because the other guys aren't willing to do what it takes to make it happen. It's death metal, and sometimes there's rough times and you just keep on going. I've always done at least 50% of the songwriting and I kind of oversee the process so if you hear similarities between albums that is why.

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Speaking of a few founding members for instance Mark Van Erp (at least Tony seems to have thanked him on the thanks list of In Dark Purity), who departed the band at the same time when George teamed up with Cannibal Corpse, and Jon Rubin wasn't thrilled about relocating to Tampa. Have you lost contact with them since their departure? Have those guys pulled out of the metal genre entirely to pursue other tempting and interesting things in their life?

I haven't seen Jon Rubin in years, and Mark actually worked as a road crew member for awhile. He has disappeared so I haven't seen him. I've heard he is up in Poughkeepsie New York. I think about those guys after I've finished a tour in Brazil or Mexico or even Europe and think about how they could've been there but they weren't. They were working their jobs or whatever it is they're doing now.

 

 

IMPERIAL DARK RELEASES

Let's speak something about your albums, because according to the official site of Conquest Music, Monstrosity would have started working on the follow up to In Dark Purity album. Well some time has passed by since In Dark Purity. Is one of the basic reasons for having such a long break linked to some changes in the band?

No, we just take our time making sure the album will be the best it can be. I guess the line up has slowed us down but that's not the main reason really. We ended up in touring mode and couldn't slow down. We just kept busy between the Europe tours, South American tours and all the US tours we've done. Now we are ready to hit the studio again and just be creative. Everything is written so from here on out it's just adding the icing to the cake - perfecting everything.

 

 

What kind of process is the writing and composing the new Monstrosity material for the new forthcoming album?

We have everything written but we still will go through and beef everything up. I'm still writing as well so we actually are working on the writing for next album as well. It's a good thing to have a head start since we are so picky as to what goes on the album and what doesn't.

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On In Dark Purity both you and Jason Avery used to be the main song writers with some additional help from Fernandez. Are you now personally responsible for the material writing for the upcoming album, or shall the whole band take a part in the writing process ?

It's mainly Tony and me coming up with everything. The other guys have a few riffs here and there but it's mostly me and Tony in the band room recording every practice. We'll siphon through the recordings and work each part out. It's about having discipline to write. When I want to write I just play and I can come up with an idea.

 

 

Monstrosity hasn't wallowed in the blood gore and guts topics - instead you have focused on another subjects to deal with on the albums. Where do you basically ladle all the lyrical inspiration for songs?

Just from reality and my imagination. I don't read a book and then write a song about it. You can just look at everyday life and think of ideas to write about. I let the words flow out and then I reshape them and try to make them flow the best they can. Sometimes it comes real easy and sometimes it comes really hard.

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I bet some euros that there has got to be some titles and songs finished by now. Do the new tracks differ dramatically from the good old death metal formula that you hammered for about ten years, or still technical brutal old school death metal?

It's pretty much all three albums rolled into one with a few things here and there that will stand out as being different. The album is going to be called "Rise To Power" and we have a bunch of titles but I'll let that be a surprise for now.

 

 

It is obvious your own label Conquest Music will be putting it out, but when the new album see the light of day?

Tentatively set for Fall of 2003. I wish it was sooner, but it won't be even if it was already recorded .

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As for Enslaving The Masses being a sort of "best of" CD giving a damn good dissection over the long career of Monstrosity. But what was the purpose on doing that album anyway, and where did you get an idea to come up that kind of double CD output? Did it cost a lot to have two CDs in the same package for you?

The original idea was to put out the demos and the "original" mix of Imperial Doom (not what was released). Then we thought instead of just putting out a CD of previously released stuff we would put the live stuff out as well. It turned out to be a bigger task than I originally had thought but the end product was worth it. We are happy with the layout too. It is cool how it all conceptually ties together.

 

 

Actually, could you tell a little bit more about Enslaving The Masses? It is a real massive package of Monstrosity having the live and above all rare demo and ep material and some really surprising cover tune from quite an unknown Canadian band.

Yes there is a DBC (Dead Brain Cells) cover on there and we also have a Terrorizer cover that hasn't been released yet. We were saving the Terrorizer cover for the Japanese edition but it never happened so it is still "in the can." It will be released at some point after the next album as a bonus track or B-side.

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The last album sung by George "Millennium" was recently re-issued. Hmm... The damn straight question: Why?

It was originally issued in 1997 but it was only available through the underground stores in the US and not the big chain stores. Now with Big Daddy distributing the Conquest titles we decided to have it come out through them and make it available through the chain stores. It gave us another excuse to stay on the road too.

 

 

As far as the debut album "Imperial Doom" unleashed by Nuclear Blast, I guess you don't have the rights as for legal ownership of the album, because of it hasn't been re-released by Conquest Music.  Am I totally wrong once again?

They technically have the rights to that particular mix of the album but the songs belong to us. That is why we were able to release the songs on "Enslaving." It's no secret that we were never happy with the mix on Imperial Doom, but live and learn. It would be cool to re-record some old songs one day but right now the focus is on brand new material.

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I gotta inquiry if you have thought of doing some more cover tunes besides Bathory, Slayer and DBC. (For example: Whiplash, Voivod, Sacrifice, Dark Angel, Master, Onslaught...just joking)...

I actually laid down drum tracks for Dark Angels' "Death is certain" once, but we never finished it so I scrapped the drum tracks. I would like to do that song one day but right now it's not even an option. We are kind of done doing covers for now. We did Angel Of Death, and Raining Blood and we've done a Bathory cover, but I think we will take a break from covers now.

 

 

MILLENIUM OF DEATH METAL

Speaking of the death metal genre in general as you have been involved and a part of it for - jeez I don't know - probably since the earliest days. Well, the biggest hype of Death Metal timed in the early 90's when several bands got signed, but the whole scene kinda died down more or less in the middle of the 90's and returned back to the catacombs of the underground. During the last three four years there has been an unavoidable sign of the recoming of the extreme metal, as a lot of new and even damn talented bands have arisen. Have you been thrilled about the new era of even more obscure and brutal death metal having gained a lot of attention, thanks to bands like Nile, Hate Eternal, Krisiun?

I haven't noticed a difference. Since about 1994 the scene has been the same size. People come and go and I haven't seen things change too much. I like all those bands you mentioned so in a way yes. I can't listen to much death metal because I don't want to be influenced by other bands but I've seen those bands and respect them.

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Do you personally prefer older bands to new ones?

Yes, but I listen to other music or usually the music we are working on as a band. I can't listen to death metal too much because I don't want to be influenced too much. I listen to other music or try to make new music myself. I'm usually always recording stuff so I have plenty of my own music to hear. Most death metal sounds very generic to me so it's hard to get into some of it. I like alot of the Polish bands coming out just because the quality is a lot higher. The Polish scene is killer and they take their Death Metal very serious, which is great.

 

 

Monstrosity is definitely one of the longest running death metal bands around at the moment, your albums reach solid selling figures, and attendance at your shows in The States, Europe, and South America is fairly large. But for one reason or another, Monstrosity haven't managed to raise to the top league of the death metal genre and gain the same kind of the massive following like Krisiun or Morbid Angel. Instead, Monstrosity has enjoyed the more underground fan following. But you have a different perspective to the whole standpoint?

The reality is there is only so big you can get, and we may not have reached the top, but we are close enough to where we don't feel like we have to fight tooth and nail. We just do what we do and hopefully people will like it. I'm not interested in just being fast all the time and all that. So many bands play fast all the time and it just gets boring to listen to. Some bands do it good, but most suck and just come off generic. We try to have a spectrum within our sound.

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Is the competition still as tough as it used to be about ten years ago between bands, especially between local bands down there in Florida?

There are quite a few bands here, but it's not too bad really. It's all the same bands you've already heard of. It's hard to make it as a new band but if your different enough maybe you can do something. It's a lot easier to make it from here rather than Idaho or something. If you are good though you can get noticed but its not easy.

 

 

As for the Florida death metal genre, has the local scene nowadays dried up?

No, it's exactly the same as it was. It just has leveled off. There's not a lot of new bands but there's usually people that turn out for shows.

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What made you play the extreme metal, and especially Death Metal? Does your musical background from the speed/thrash/death/black metal of the early/mid/late 80's still churn in your vessels, which somehow gives the unstoppable force even nowadays?

I like lots of different styles. Of course I still love all the late 80s thrash but I listen to so much different stuff as well. I've heard those albums too many times as it is but I still listen to it.. I like looking for rare stuff from those bands. I like collecting bootlegs or hard to find recordings and videos from those bands.

 

 

AND FINALLY…

Let's conclude the whole massive interview with the question dealing with "sadness and sorrow." The entire year 2002 has been quite weird and an irony of fate because several extreme metal pioneers have left the world for the transcendental life, like Chuck Schuldiner of Death, Tony Bono of Whiplash, Paul Baloff of Exodus and the latest death was the drummer of Gorguts. What were your feelings having heard of those sad departures?

What can I say? It sucks that these things happened and hopefully fans will remember these guys. I knew Chuck from back in the late eighties so that kind of freaked me out when I heard he passed away.

 

 

All right Lee Harrison, I thank thee for this megalomaniac interview for metal rules and of course you may something to say, so spit it out now...

Alright, the new album is coming so be forewarned!!! The "Rise To Power" has begun and we will hit the road very soon so keep your eye out for that. And thanks for the massive interview Arto, sorry it took so long to do.


Label Website:  www.conquestmusic.com


An older (1999) interview we did with Lee is here.

CD Reviews:
Enslaving The Masses
In Dark Purity