Sentient Horror – Ungodly Death ResurgenceFriday, 20th April 2018
Metal musicians evolve just as their varied interests they possess in the field. For guitarist/vocalist Matt Moliti, he felt the need to expand from his power/progressive metal roots that he developed for almost ten years in Dark Empire to start a new band with old school Swedish death influences at the core, thus the birth of Sentient Horror. In four years they’ve carved out a decent niche through their debut full-length Ungodly Forms and subsequent live show appearances up and down the East Coast – including a blistering Entombed tribute set last Halloween up in this scribe’s native New England territory.
Their latest effort The Crypt Below is a five-song EP that doesn’t relent in its conquest to deliver biting riffs, savage brutality and that low-tuned catchiness that put Swedish bands like Entombed, Dismember, and Grave on the landscape during that early 90’s death movement. We fired off some questions to Matt about the history of Sentient Horror, whether the band may reach stagnation due to their obvious influences, favorite live performances, and the state of old school / new school death.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your earliest memories surrounding music growing up? At what point did you decide to pick up an instrument and play in bands, and how did you make the progression into death metal?
Matt Moliti: My dad was a hobbyist musician, a keyboard player, and he always had a home studio for as long as I can remember. He introduced me to progressive rock bands like Genesis and King Crimson when I was a kid, and eventually I picked up guitar. My first guitar obsessions were Pink Floyd and Rush, and Dream Theater got me into exploring metal music. I got into death metal through typical “gateway” bands from the early 2000’s like Children of Bodom and Amon Amarth. Eventually I discovered Dismember and the early Death and Carcass albums, and that was my first exposure to old school death metal.
Dead Rhetoric: Sentient Horror originally started as Sentience in 2014 – what can you tell us about those early years, and what necessitated the name change?
Moliti: I had just disbanded my old group Dark Empire with a desire to play death metal and put together a three-song demo as Sentience entitled Beyond the Curse of Death as a means to garner some attention and find bandmates. It happened fairly quickly, and we spent a year writing more songs and gigging around the NJ and NYC area. There were some lineup changes… our first drummer was let go due to commitment and performance issues, and was replaced with Ryan Cardoza. Our original rhythm guitarist, Tom Maher, left to join the band Organ Dealer, and was replaced by current rhythm guitarist, Jon Lopez. We had agreed to a deal with the labels Testimony Records in Europe and Redefining Darkness in the US to release our first full-length album, Ungodly Forms. Testimony discovered there was another band – a djent band from the UK – named Sentience, so we had to change our name. We decided on Sentient Horror as it played on the original band name.
Dead Rhetoric: Ungodly Forms came out in 2016 – how do you feel the songwriting and recording sessions went for this full-length? Were there any specific surprises, obstacles, or stand-out moments that took place – and how do you feel the material has been received from the press and fan standpoints?
Moliti: The songwriting was stretched out over a few months. I wrote about half the tunes by myself and the other half I collaborated with Tom on the writing process. I think the main obstacle was not having a drummer at the time of tracking. Since we were between drummers, we needed to use a drum machine on Ungodly Forms, but not many people really seemed to notice this! Tom also left around the time I was tracking my vocals, but he had already laid down his rhythm guitars for the album. I think the material was really well-received. We made a pretty high chart position on the Rock Hard Germany magazine’s monthly album rankings. I think #3 or something, so that was a pretty big deal.
Dead Rhetoric: How did your latest rhythm section with bassist Tyler Butkovsky and drummer Evan Daniele come into the band? What do you think they bring to the table to allow Sentient Horror to elevate your brand of SweDeath to more people worldwide?
Moliti: Tyler and Evan are both really solid and dependable musicians, and really great guys, too. I think that’s really important when you have a band that everyone gets along and personalities gel. I’ve known Tyler for years, he was a former guitar student of mine. As far as Evan, we put up an audition request on Facebook and he was one of the drummers who responded. He really impressed us with his drumming ability, so after a few rehearsals we decided to bring him into the band.
Dead Rhetoric: The Crypts Below is the group’s latest EP, consisting of four new songs and an Edge of Sanity cover. What was the game plan for this effort, and how did you gain the interest of Redefining Darkness Records?
Moliti: Since it was just going to be four new songs, I wanted the tunes to all be very cutthroat and aggressive sounding. I didn’t want to waste time with slower or more obscure sounding songs, every tune should be very direct and stand out, and I think I achieved that. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been working with Redefining Darkness since the debut, and Thomas Haywood, who runs it is a great guy and awesome to work with.
Dead Rhetoric: What qualities fascinate you most regarding the older Swedish death metal style – and do you ever worry that as a result of sticking to a specific era and set of influences, there is the fear of stagnation creatively that could exist?
Moliti: I love the guitar tone. It’s really the most perfect death metal guitar sound, ever. I like that the early Stockholm bands had this kind of raw quality to them. a lot of strummed, open, power chords, really evil, doomy parts, and bits of traditional metal and punk influence that a lot of the original American bands don’t quite have. To be honest, I have a lot of death metal influences that I don’t really see myself stagnating in the writing process. Carcass and Gorefest are two huge influences on Sentient Horror that are not Swedish, but when you’ve got that HM2 pedal going on the guitars, you could be influenced by AC/DC and people would think it sounds Swedish.
Dead Rhetoric: You were a part of the Metal Thursday Halloween covers weekend this past year at Ralph’s Diner in Worcester, MA – performing a blistering tribute set to Entombed that concentrated on their early albums. Tell us about the experience and the reception you received?
Moliti: It was a blast. It was so fun learning those songs and discovering all the little details in the riffs and arrangements. The one thing I wish is that we had an opportunity to play them again! I’d love to record a cover of “Drowned” one day. I felt that one suited us particularly well.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the ever-evolving death metal scene? Do you find interesting twists within the formula that keep the older bands moving along strong while bringing up a new crop of younger acts?
Moliti: I like that there is a resurgence in the old school way of doing things. The tech thing was cool at first, but it became less about riffs and more about constant blast beats and arpeggios. It stops being heavy at that point and just becomes a technical exercise. I love guitar solos and I love shred guitar players like Yngwie and Jason Becker, but when the entire song is just nonstop technique, it gets really stale really fast. Some of the tech bands evolved more into progressive bands, which is cool, but I think the return to old school aesthetics was much needed. I like what bands like Horrendous are doing. Taking the old school aesthetics and doing their own thing with it. Necrot is another newer band I really like a lot, too, and our label mates on Redefining Darkness, Cist, really blew me away recently, as well.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you define success for Sentient Horror at this point? Because I would imagine a band of your stature still has to balance out daily jobs to pay the bills and still try to accomplish as much as you can with the band during your free time, correct?
Moliti: Yeah, pretty much. I think out of all of us, I’m locked down the most, since I’m a music director at a School of Rock location, so I only have a set number of vacation days per year. I love my job, I love teaching guitar, but yeah, it is a balance. Success to me would be to continue to put out records and play shows and hopefully one day Sentient Horror pays for itself as far as album production costs go.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is physical product for your recordings versus digital sales and distribution? Do you believe people find proper artwork and packaging important these days -or is it more relegated to a collector’s marketplace?
Moliti: Well, I think the underground metal scene has way more collectors in it than typical music listeners, so the physical product will always be important in this regard. I think it’s really cool that vinyl has made a comeback, I collect it myself. So maybe it’s not so important for a typical commercial music fan, but for metal, its essential.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the philosophy when it comes to Sentient Horror as far as live performances? What have been some of the best shows that you’ve done to date – and what made those shows stand out?
Moliti: I do like to put on a performance and I am very conscious about the fact that I am the front man, so I try to bring that to the stage. We did a show in Baltimore last year that was particularly good. It was one of the first times I noticed people in the crowd singing along with the words. That meant a lot. There’s been some other special shows, as well, like our Ungodly Forms release show at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn. That was a big show for us.
Dead Rhetoric: Where would you like to see Sentient Horror go over the next three to five years? Has the band mapped out any specific goals, or do you just take things as they come day by day, week to week, and month to month?
Moliti: I’d like to keep us on a roughly 18-month max timetable as far as releases go. So the plan is to write the second full-length record this year so we can start rehearsing it when we get back from our European tour in October. I have a basic idea of how the second full-length is going to sound, but I don’t want to describe anything yet, as things always do tend to take their own form as the process goes on.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Sentient Horror to support the latest EP over the rest of 2018? Will there be any possibility of a conceptual music video, or playthroughs of specific songs to increase interest through social media?
Moliti: We have a lyric video for “Enter Crypts Below” that will debut soon. It was done by an artist named Nestor Carrera, who is also the drummer for the band Escarnium, and he did an absolutely amazing job with it. The lyrics for that song are about the HP Lovecraft short story “The Shadow Out of Time” so since they are very descriptive, it made a good choice for a lyric video. We also will do our first tour in Europe in October co headlining with Carnal Tomb.