Cleveland death metal stalwarts Embalmer return with their first new LP, Emanations from the Crypt, in a decade next month, but Decibel couldn’t wait that long to re-open the necro-filing cabinet. Your first taste comes in the form of the semi-eponymous “I Am the Embalmer.” Vocalist Paul Gorefiend walks us into the cellar…
Embalmer was obviously a part of the early U.S. death metal scene before disbanding in 1998. You joined the band in 2012 after they re-activated seven years earlier. Were you a fan “back in the day” and how did you end up joining?
Yes, I was a lifelong fan of the band and saw all the various lineups over the years, in addition to being longtime friends with several of the different members over time. Ironically, original bassist/vocalist Toby Wulff is my co-worker now and we still talk about the band and old times during lunch [Laughs]. Although I joined in 2012, I had been a rabid underground fan/trader for many years, and always did a lot of mail. In the late ’90s I assisted Brian Baxter and Ablated Records, who also booked Ohio Deathfest. The ’98 fest was the last show Embalmer played before going on hiatus, and they had a short-lived vocalist at that time named Frank Walls. When they spoke of getting back together in 2004 or so, I was involved behind the scenes, and always hung out at practice once they got jamming again. I was a friend, acting as a general facilitator, which found me booking many of the band's shows during this time period including their first NYC appearance in 2005. Brian + I later started Gorefiend Promotions which began as a merchandising label, (evolving into show promotion), and we did a couple shirts and hoodies for Embalmer. People may think my stage name “Paul Gorefiend” was made up when I joined the band, but really people had already been calling me that or simply “Gorefiend” for years in reference to the company. In 2009, Brian had already joined Embalmer, and the 2009 demo was released, passed out and sent all over through Gorefiend.
Fast forward to 2012: Rick and the band part ways, and they have two shows booked—the first being less than a month away. Brian was my roommate at the time, and he asked me to come down and try vocals at a couple practices. I thought about it, and decided to join on an interim basis to get them through the shows, then see how it went from there. I wanted to see how the crowds reacted, and sit and ask myself if I would like listening to my vocals as a fan, if I was standing in the crowd and not on stage. I definitely didn't want to “do it just to do it” if it wasn't going to do the band justice. Everything ended up going great, both shows went on without cancellation, and we never looked back from there!
Embalmer has worked with a lot of underground labels over the band’s career. What led the band to sign with hometown heroes Hells Headbangers for new LP Emanations from the Crypt?
We knew this was going to be an important release for the band, after taking a big step backwards signing with a small label after Maryland Deathfest IV in 2006, and releasing the disappointing 13 Faces of Death album. There were many mistakes made with that release, and how business was conducted in general with the band, and the lessons were certainly learned. Brian and I knew the Horval brothers from the late ’90s before they even started the label. They were always at the shows taking live pictures at gigs. When Brian was in Regurgitation (OH) they licensed a t-shirt design as one of their very first releases. Over the years, we have watched them grow from a small vinyl-specialty label to one of the premier underground labels in the world. They have one of the busiest distros in North America, and are based only 40 minutes from us right here in Northeast Ohio On top of that, their attention to detail and willingness to go “all out” with each release offered a lot of creative packaging options and ideas that would not be available from others. We knew this first hand when they did the 12-inch vinyl re-issue of There was Blood Everywhere in 2014. The Die-Hard edition came blood splattered with an actual meat cleaver. I think they ended up selling out in less than 36 hours!
The Die-Hard “Coroner’s Report” edition of the new album Emanations from the Crypt is even more over the top and out of control—111 picture discs come packed inside a printed box, sealed with evidence tape. Inside are three individual evidence bags with murder instruments inside (pocket knives, frayed bloody rope, etc). The back has a document holder with an actual Cleveland “Coroner's Report” sheet. Each one is filled out by hand, with every kill being different (ex. #166-002 killed different than #166-032, etc.) All of them were signed by original drummer Roy “The Embalmer” Stewart as the Medical Examiner! The coolest thing about the whole package is the victim line is left blank until people order, and filled in as they are packaged. So, if John Smith orders the record, the John Smith becomes the victim on the coroner sheet and literally gets “killed” by the new album.
Tell us a little about this track “I am the Embalmer.” All great metal bands need that eponymous “theme” song (Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, ect). Is this Embalmer’s?
This song is dedicated to original drummer Roy Stewart, who is still in the band blasting away to this day! He has gone by a few different nicknames over the years, like “The Hearsedriver” in the ’90s for example. Seeing as he is the only founding member still in the band, and plays one of the most demanding positions, it was cool to make a song like this with a sort-of dual meaning. These days he is known as “The Embalmer" because when it comes down to it, he is the patriarch of the band and earned the title over 25 years behind the skins. The lyrical content fits perfectly into what you would expect from an Embalmer song too, so just worked out really well. As far as a “theme,” this would be one hell of a blasting one... and it very well could be it! I’ll let everyone out there decide…
Most death metal fans likely remember the band from the There Was Blood Everywhere comp, which Relapse released back in 1997. What can old heads who were onto that find to appreciate with Emanations from the Crypt?
Well, to put it frankly, this album was made FOR those people… and I am one of them! This album was VERY important for us as I mentioned, and we paid a tremendous amount of attention to make sure the feel and sound earned back a level of respectability from old heads, while energizing new ones. Every riff on this record was put through a fine tooth comb, and for each that made it on here, 10 were thrown away. Roy has never been better or more fired up behind the kit, and I seriously think he gets faster and more aggressive as he ages! And as always, no drum triggers ever used! I spent a lot of time making sure the vocal approach to the record brought back the essence of the ’90s recordings, and incorporated all the varied, sick elements that people expect.
Aesthetically, we wanted to replicate that old feel you got when looking at a new album, and couldn't wait to get home to open it up. It was also important to give the fans some great packaging for their money, especially in an age of downloading. No cheap two-panel inlay here—we went with a full 16-page layout complete with lyrics, photos, thanks list, RIP section, etc. Brings you back to the days of sitting, listening to whole albums from front to back instead of scattered tracks, reading the lyrics, seeing what bands were in the thanks list, even what shirts the members were wearing. I still do all that to this day when I get new albums, and it’s a bummer whenever a full-price CD comes with hardly any actual content inside. I know a lot of other people feel the same way.
Speaking of There Was Blood Everywhere, just where does the Necro-Filing Cabinet reside these days?
Its actual location is classified… but the deceased are filed away to rot for eternity. Every now and then you can hear their undead screams, as corpses are ripped from the cabinet by “The Emblamer” and tossed “Into the Oven.” May the Wounds Bleed Forever…