Last year at The Sleeping Shaman we covered quite extensively the history of Chicago’s filthiest sons Lord Mantis, from the seeming implosion following their critically acclaimed extreme masterpiece Death Mask in 2014, to the unlikely comeback in 2019 with Universal Death Church following the tragic death of founding member Bill Bumgardener.
Recently I had the opportunity to put questions to one of the major driving forces in the band, vocalist Charlie Fell, and ask him about the resurrection of the band, his late friend, creative processes, Universal Death Church and burying the hatchet with Lord Mantis guitarist Andrew Markuszewski who I also recently interviewed about Devil With No Name.
Having read many interviews with the band members since 2014, Universal Death Church feels like unfinished business being addressed. How does it feel being back in Lord Mantis?
Charlie Fell: Lord Mantis has been a giant part of my life since I started playing with Bill and Greg back in 2005. In all honesty, to me, the bands on a different level than any other project I’ve been a part of. It’s the most honest of all the bands I’ve done and it’s the only band that I’ve ever been in that I can fully connect with the music and completely become possessed by it during a performance.
While I’ve been involved with some other strong projects, there has always been something really special about Mantis, while maybe not as successful as bands like Nachtmystium or Cobalt; I know these records will be something that stands out in time. It’s a shock to me that we were able to put our shit behind us and carry on, I really couldn’t be happier about it.
To get the elephant in the room out of the way early, there have been many columns inches dedicated to the public fallout of Death Mask, how are the relationships between band members in 2020?
C: We’ve never gotten along better, I think while apart both of us came to realize how important and unique our relationship and chemistry is. It’s a very hard thing to find and now that all that anger is gone, it’s cleared up our communication and made the writing process so much quicker. I just wish Bill could be part of this; that’s the only part I feel cheated on.
It’s a shock to me that we were able to put our shit behind us and carry on, I really couldn’t be happier about it…
Obviously, Bill’s death was a huge catalyst for this reunion, how different was the song writing process this time round?
C: It wasn’t that much different, from my standpoint we’ve always been a band that does things the old-school way, everybody going into a practice space and whoever had some ideas would show it to the rest of the band and then we would all put our two cents in. Thankfully, Bryce was available and understood what we wanted and I don’t think any of the writing suffered from it.
What did Bill bring to the table, how did you go about replacing that influence and what do you miss about playing with Bill?
C: Mostly I just miss his personality and his humor. He had a super unique style which, when he was on top of his craft, there is just no better drummer in that style. I would go so far as to say that if there’s a dude who embodies the style of Indian and Lord Mantis, it would be Bill.
One thing I don’t miss is having to deal with the unwarranted elitism from some of his band mates in Indian. I think those guys caused him a lot of misery in the long run since there definitely was some possessiveness over Bill by them and jealousy from their bass player. Bottom line, we were friends for over a decade. Bill knew everybody in my family, he would even occasionally work with me at my dad’s clothing shop and in my eyes he was always family and I try to remember those days with him and not how we all were when shit hit the fan. He had a lot of issues also, he just never really dealt with them and eventually they ate him alive.
Bryce is a very capable replacement drummer, was opening with a faster track (Santa Muerte) to show off his skills a deliberate choice to justify your decision to recruitment him to the fans and to bring the band back?
C: Well that particular tune I had written as an intro track and there was a Motörhead type beat that was gonna be there instead of the blast, but Drew re-worked it while we were in the studio and we chose to go with how he had it. But yeah, we just felt like we needed to open with a ripper since its gonna be our comeback album in a sense. Fleshworld was also a candidate for the opener but we also needed a ripper for the end, and I think the longer track was a better choice for side B.
The music and lyrics find inspiration and almost joy in the darker, depraved side of humanity. What drives you to write songs like that and why do you think it connects with the audience?
C: People can tell when you fake it and all good art is honest; that’s really what people are after and that goes double for Rap and Metal where the lyrics tend to be on the dark side and the people that listen to it, more often than not, probably have some issues they deal with and find comfort in the authenticity and that they’re not the only ones who feel the way they do.
I also think in a world of constant advertising and deep fakes, when somebody who is obviously troubled can bring something truly real, dark and dangerous to the table, people want that. People are scared to be honest these days, everybody is full of shit because they’re under constant scrutiny by their peers. Instagram, Facebook, a million metal blogs, you can’t say what you really feel anymore. There’s only so many tours every year and you know that’s what most bands are competing over. It’s not really your music they’re looking at, but your behavior, and what people have said about you online, if you’re an OK band to be associated with and will the other bands on the road be OK with ya.
Like these days a small slip-up and you’re gonna find it impossible to get your band in front of a crowd or get label support. We have definitely been cut out of certain circles and aren’t booked on a lot of fests and tours that would otherwise be no-brainers. Hopefully this changes soon, and we will be able get back to playing again.
everybody is full of shit because they’re under constant scrutiny by their peers. Instagram, Facebook, a million metal blogs, you can’t say what you really feel anymore…
Universal Death Church somehow feels cleaner and more focused in its approach despite it’ darkness. Was this a conscious decision to move the song writing and production in this direction or did it just evolve organically.
C: It’s organic and to be honest we probably would have preferred a production more like Death Mask but we didn’t have access to the same gear we used on that record or the same drum room which really makes the difference. Also, Colin had just gotten a new mastering suite which made a big difference in the mastering. And I think we’re all just a lot better at our craft then we were in 2014, so that’s gonna give it a less rough sound.
There’s an industrial/expansive feel to some of the tracks on Universal Death Church. How important is it to keep progressing the sound of the band when some fans might want to hear Death Mask 2?
C: It’s just not up to us how it comes out. I can try and try to do another record like Death Mask, but we didn’t even know how we did that one, the recording process to that album was beyond nightmarish. It was frankly miraculous that we didn’t totally derail during those sessions with how the band was interacting with each other and multiple issues with drugs floating around that session.
There just was a certain magic during the last few days of that session when it all came together, but it really wasn’t until we got the second mix when we were like, ‘holy shit; did we really make this record?’. We plan to keep moving forward and letting whatever muse is possessing us keep going till we have nothing left.
What is your personal highlight on the new album and why?
C: Hole is the best track this band has ever done. I was floored when Drew sent me the demo for that song, and it just to me sounds like the band we have always wanted to be and the lyrics Drew came up with really just punch ya in the gut. Other than that I think Fleshworld is a standout track that track was based on a riff I had for the Death Mask sessions so it’s funny being asked about a Death Mask 2 when there’s more than a couple riffs that I wrote during that same period kicking around this album. The only ways to really do a Death Mask 2 would be to name it that and that would just be stupid.
You have all shared numerous bands (Abigail Williams, Avichi, Indian, Lord Mantis etc) with each other. Is this because you’re drawn to work together for reliability and musicianship, chemistry, geographically, or a shared vision of what you want to achieve?
C: Work with people you love and respect and see the same from you.
You have brought back Dylan O’Toole for guest vocals again and obviously he filled in on the ‘NTW’ EP. What was the original thought behind that in 2014 and why has it become part of Lord Mantis through to today?
C: Dylan’s always been kicking around the space and helping out with shit. I do the same for him and I got a riff or two on some Indian records. He comes up with cool shit and I know he just likes doing it and as a bonus. It’s pretty hilarious watching Dylan come in after a six pack of Coors and drive Sanford up the wall or like trying to fight Ken during the Death Mask sessions.
You’ve also brought in a number of guest musicians – Bruce Lamont of Yakuza and Dallas Thomas of Pelican – what did they bring to the recording process and what was it like working with them?
Well, I knew that part of God’s Animal needed a solo and specifically an old-school metal solo which isn’t any of our specialties, so we had Dallas come rip, same with Bruce. If I could play sax, I would have done it.
Why do you think people connect with Lord Mantis’ music?
C: We definitely are one of those bands that are not for everybody, but the people that like us are diehard. I think you only get that type of following when you’re putting out something that’s new, hasn’t been done to death and that makes people feel like they’ve got a personal stake in your band. We just have something in us and this is something wholly unique to my experience in Mantis, where the music is just there, almost like we didn’t write it. It just sort of shows up, we impregnate it with a certain emotion and it just captivates us. It’s contagious, like when you feel it will communicate to your audience, just like when you phone it in, everybody knows.
Universal Death Church is just the restart point; we just have so much more in us right now and a lot of fire in our hearts…
The new album has been largely well received. If you compare this to the past where Lord Mantis has carried a lot of baggage in terms of negative press over the years, do you see Universal Death Church as a fresh start and the beginning of a healing process?
C: I mean I definitely feel like the album got a bit overlooked and didn’t know what to expect with Lord Mantis coming back and into today’s political climate. I feel like if you’re even just the least bit gruff, people take that as you’re some camo pants-wearing Pantera-worshiping racist, or if you aren’t actively spouting politics on your Facebook page, then you’re seen as problematic.
But yes, it was a huge worry in a way and it’s really just because I want Lord Mantis to be given the opportunities to play the kind of stages that the band deserves. It’s always really bothered me the lack of opportunity that has come our way and just the wealth that has been given to some of my other bands, knowing that in a way its wasted on something lesser and ordinary.
There’s definitely been shows with some of my other bands where we have all gotten on stage knowing that we were being propelled by pure hype, and it showed. Or being in bands where nobody in the band gave a fuck about the performance and was more about the rock star trip; the music was totally secondary.
Lord Mantis is the only band I’ve been in that has felt worthy of being on a big stage, otherwise I always felt like I was pulling the wool over people’s eyes with some of these bands. Had it not been for good PR and tapping into the hipster crowd, which pretty much acts like a flock of sheep at the whim of whatever music critic is cool that week, I don’t think there would be anybody supporting some of my past bands. It’s a very frustrating feeling.
So, what is next for Lord Mantis?
C: Hopefully, live shows but there will definitely be another record; I’m already working on it. Besides that, we have some tracks, some finished, and some not, from the Pervertor and Death Mask era that we’ve been thinking about releasing in some way. Universal Death Church is just the restart point; we just have so much more in us right now and a lot of fire in our hearts.
Any final words…
C: This is all just a dream; it can end any day, any second. Being a fraud is the worst thing you can be and life’s just too fucking short to sell insurance.
Universal Death Church is out now via Profound Lore Records.
Interviewed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden