As a whole new generation starts to rediscover the gory delights of death metal, New York’s Undeath have found themselves spearheading a death metal renaissance. As part of their debut UK tour the band stopped off at The Craufurd Arms venue in Wolverton, so The Midlands Rocks took the opportunity to speak to the band’s vocalist Alex Jones.
You’re currently blazing a trail across the UK. How has the tour been?
It has been amazing so far. We’ve done four shows; Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester and Nottingham. Every show has been wonderful, the crowds have been very responsive. Three of the four shows sold out, it’s been an amazing time.
The ticket sales prove that the metal scene is still very healthy.
Definitely. A lot of the tours we’ve done have projected low in terms of ticket sales, but they’ve been such an exciting package with lots of new metal bands, and that on its own sells tickets. We’ve always been pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who come out to these shows.
Undeath hail from up state New York, which is not my first thought when thinking of death metal. There’s been a few exceptions; Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation, did this relative isolation help you shape a unique sound?
Suffocation are a little more down state. We really only have Cannibal Corpse as far as legacy bands go. We come from Rochester and we’re sandwiched in between Syracuse and Buffalo, but we’re far from any major city, Toronto is probably the nearest, and that’s in a different country, that’s three-and-a-half hours away from us. There’s really not much to do, other than start a band and pursue that. So that isolation has a huge impact on our sound, for sure.
So when you started out, did you have a receptive audience to play to?
If you count our girlfriends and friends as a receptive audience, then yes! [laughs] but we certainly weren’t getting tomatoes thrown at us or anything like that.
Your live show is far from serene. The crowd erupts like a hardcore show. Do you think you’ve got a crossover vibe going on?
We definitely try to incorporate elements of both metal and hardcore and we find those styles most appealing. For me, as far as hardcore goes, I love the crowd participation aspect of it, I love jumping off the stage and getting in the crowd, I love that there’s no barrier to getting involved as to how the show goes. But as far as which style of music I prefer, I listen to metal almost every waking hour of my day, so I try to find a meeting point between the two worlds and the result is a representation of how our live show is.
In terms of energy levels, every show you play hits the highest register. Do you feel you’ve set a dangerous precedent? People will always expect this from you now.
It’s certainly a monkey’s paw, but it’s the price you’ve got to pay. I’ve played shows where I’ve been sick and not felt 100%, but you’ve got to power through it and give it your all because people have paid good money to see you and that’s what gets me through.
On this UK jaunt you have Celestial Sanctuary as tour mates. How has that been?
It’s great. I’ve been a fan of theirs since they put out their full length and ever since it seemed a possibility that we could come over and play these shows, they were my first though of who we could take out with us.
It’s like the two bands fit together like the yin and yang.
Musically, absolutely. Personally, absolutely. Musically, they’re a hard-nosed, straight ahead death metal band. There’s no pretension involved and they approach music in a similar way as we do, and they’re similar people, too. They’re laid back, low key and that’s always what we hope for in tour mates; as little drama as possible!
Your sophomore album [It’s Time…To Rise From The Grave] has been out in the world for almost a year now. Are you happy with everything it has achieved?
Pretty much, it’s gone above and beyond the expectations any of us had. We push ourselves to be the best that we can be musically, but we can’t control how the public are going to react to it, that’s always the roll of the dice.
Is there anything on that album you’d like to go back and change?
There’s always stuff personal performance wise, with every band I’ve been in, but when the album is out in the world and people are hearing it, that’s when you start to pick up on the little nuances that you wish you could go back and do another take, but that’s the way it goes.
So how does the producer factor into that?
It’s less like they’re telling us what to do, but more offering gentle suggestions about how to approach things. In the past I liked to go in and do everything methodically, record every line as an individual take so I could get the exact cadence I wanted. On this album the producer Scoops [Dardaris], tried to steer me away from that and had me sing as much of the song as possible and then go back and dissect it. I feel that was a good way because it gave everything a live and raw spontaneous feel.
You’ve also released a live album [Live…From The Grave]. What was the reasoning behind putting out a live offering so early in your career?
It’s something we’ve been talking about doing for a long time. Personally, I love live albums, I think they’re great. I think they’re an often overlooked aspect of metal music. There’s so many seminal live albums; Judas Priest’s Unleashed In The East, Cannibal Corpse’s Live Cannibalism, I love all that stuff and a lot of the time I prefer listening to live albums because it feels like a more authentic way to experience a band’s sound. I’ve always wanted to do something like that and especially with Undeath. It fell into our laps a little bit, because we had a really good soundboard recording of a show that we played with Dying Fetus and we realised it was going to be way easier than we though to make a live album.
Do you feel it captures the essence of an Undeath show?
Definitely. It had a little bit of mixing and mastering, but what you hear; that’s the show. It’s ripped directly from the soundboard, there’s no processing or overdub takes, it’s pretty much an authentic recreation of an Undeath live experience as you can get.
After these UK dates you have a few days off and then your back on the road for a lengthy run across the States. It’s a pretty daunting schedule, so what’s your survival plan?
I try to approach everything as Zen as possible. There’s a lot of acceptance that goes along with it; you’re going to be on the road away from your loved ones and family for weeks on end, you’re going to be in uncomfortable situations, it’s tough being away from all the things you take for granted. You have to let all that stuff go as much as possible and appreciate the fact that what we’re doing right now, being on the road, is an opportunity that we should never take for granted. This is what we’ve always aimed for, so it’s always about living in the moment, however cliched as that may sound.
It’s a nice problem to have, but you first two studio albums have been so well received, how do you plan to top them?
Try not to think about it! [laughs] We’re taking our time with this one. With our last album, we were kind of rushing ourselves to get the album out as soon as possible. We had reasoning for that, but with this next one we’re going to take the opposite approach and gestate on it a little more.
What else do you have planned for 2023?
We have plenty of stuff planned, for sure. We’ve got festivals planned in America; we’re playing Decibel Magazine’s Metal & Beer Fest, we’re doing Hell On The Harbor. We’ll be back in Europe in the summer for festival dates, then we’ll probably take a few months off and record the new album. Busy but exciting times.