Kill Division – Peace in the Court of Public Opinion

Thursday, 6th October 2022

This four-piece group contains well known players to those familiar with the extreme metal landscape. Ties to Gruesome, Megadeth, Venom Inc., plus work in the past with Malevolent Creation shouldn’t make it surprising that Kill Division sprouted up as a labor of love for grindcore. Their debut album Peace Through Tyranny smashes through the sonic landscape much like the early days of Napalm Death and Terrorizer – eleven tracks of devastation that whirl by in twenty-four minutes and change. We reached out to main songwriter/guitarist Gus Rios who discussed the formation of the group, lyrical content plus sample ideas, social / political discourse, his back-and-forth feelings as a drummer and guitarist, extreme metal thoughts, plus how he’s doing in terms of his mental health and advice seeking out help – and an update on what to expect for the next Gruesome album.

Dead Rhetoric: Peace Through Tyranny is the debut album for Kill Division. Tell us how the seeds of this act were planted between vocalist Kyle Symons and yourself – as you knew where you wanted to go direction-wise right away in terms of influences and sound, correct? And was it easy to recruit bassist Jeramie Kling and ex-Soilwork/current Megadeth drummer Dirk Verbeuren into the fold?

Gus Rios: Kyle and I go back to our first band together when we were kids, like fourteen- or fifteen-year-old kids. Over the pandemic, I did an online show on the Sick Drummer page. Kyle came out and did vocals on a Massacre episode, he hadn’t sung in fifteen or sixteen years at that point. He messaged me and said ‘man, that was a lot of fun. Maybe we should do a record’. I know he was a huge grindcore fan, and I never had written in that style, but I love it. I mean I love old Napalm Death and Terrorizer stuff. I figured it would be a challenge to me. Dirk is a good friend of mine, and I know he’s a grindcore fanatic also. Having those two guys be the sniff test guys – if I wrote a song and they both gave it the thumbs up, it’s probably good. I asked Jeramie to mix it, and he said he would play bass on it too. Luckily, I have some good friends in this business, and that’s how it all came about.

Dead Rhetoric: What are the keys in your eyes that you were able to deliver through the songwriting and performances for this record? How challenging is it to be aggressive, energetic, as well as memorable in such a tight framework as grindcore?

Rios: I have to say, I’ve always been a fan of short, concise music, to the point. I don’t like long intros or what I like to call throwaway riffs, they can be gratuitous parts, I guess. I love the Jeff Hanneman, punk rock style of writing where it’s just like these are the best riffs for this song, and I don’t need to indulge in myself to add more stuff. The song is the most important thing in the entire situation – not the drums, not the guitar, it’s the song. I would write a couple of riffs, put together the song, and know the song didn’t need anything else. Luckily the songs with the help of Dirk and Jeramie came out catchy and memorable.

Dead Rhetoric: You split up the lyrical content between yourself and Kyle – where do you see the major differences in terms of topics and approach for this set of material?

Rios: To be honest, to me it’s such a minimal difference that I forgot which ones I had kind of written until I got the vinyl back. I’m the only one who wrote a song about Megatron (laughs). Kyle works in corrections, so a lot of his lyrical content is from what he sees every single day. And I think I wrote one song, he was working at a prison where they house a lot of insane people, and I was taking aback by the stories he was telling me, that’s why I wrote the song “Walking Dead” because these people are these forgotten souls that if they had received help, perhaps they wouldn’t be in the situation that they are in. These walking dead in our society, castaways.

Dead Rhetoric: Were there specific songs that you decided to put specific samples in there to add context to the lyrics?

Rios: That was a 90’s throwback thing, samples were the thing. There was a section of a song where Kyle didn’t put lyrics in and I thought that part was really heavy, so I thought about what I would have done back in 1993? You would have put samples in there, this was during the pandemic, and that song is about the pandemic. It was easy to go on YouTube and find random pandemic audio clips and throw those in there. There was a song “Surrounded by Filth” which is about all the garbage Kyle sees every day, so I added the slamming of the jail cell in the end, and of course I had to throw Megatron in there as a sample.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the thought-provoking cover art that has numerous images at play? Do you believe this provides proper insight into what listeners can expect when they hear the record?

Rios: Yeah. And its grindcore, I think there’s a history there of social consciousness and political topics. I have gotten to the point where I have gotten extremely sick of the side taking in this country in particular. I wanted to make a record… and I didn’t particularly tell the guy what to do on the cover, I was like hey, if we are going to do a Trump thing, we have to do a Biden thing, so I want to piss off everybody, and nobody at the same time. My overall theme for the record is (the leaders) are the common enemy. If Americans would just shut up and talk again, they would be like, hey, we have the same problems, and they are caused by these same people, regardless of what side they are on. There’s ANTIFA on there, January 6th scenes, BLM, it’s an equal opportunity offender, if you will.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think it’s something where people seem very free with their opinions on the internet, but wouldn’t speak in the same way in person to people on these same social/ political issues?

Rios: I think you hit the nail on the head as to why we are in the situation we are in. Just now, for instance, we did a tour as Left to Die, which is Terry Butler, Rick Rozz, Matt Harvey and myself doing the Leprosy record. Matt Harvey is a California, lefty liberal guy. Terry Butler is a pretty conversative, right-wing guy. Zero, and I mean zero, issues whatsoever. We got along like best friends on this tour. Which furthers my belief that if we all shut the hell up, we all would probably get along better. Of course, if you are raging, racist asshole, okay, you have issues – but if you vote one way or the other, if you don’t talk about it, you will get along just fun. If we had less of the CNN versus Fox News discussion, which is what I think in my opinion (the politicians) don’t want. The minute we start talking amongst ourselves, they are going to be screwed. If I could get artistic, under the umbrella of music we can all find common ground and get along.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you arrive at recording “Barely Alive” – a Terrorizer deep cut that never appeared on any of their albums?

Rios: That was 100% Dirk’s call. We had all chosen covers to do for the record – but none of them made it onto the album because of the physical copyrights we couldn’t secure. Dirk is personal friends with Oscar and Pete from Terrorizer. It’s from a rehearsal demo, those guys just jamming, and he liked that song. He reached out to Oscar to know if he had the lyrics, he went to his mom’s house and couldn’t find them. He gave us permission to record the song and re-write the lyrics, do whatever we wanted to do, it’s cool with me. We had the official blessing to do it. Being such a huge Jesse Pintado fan, it was such a huge honor for me to take something that he had written and give it to the world.

Dead Rhetoric: Which came easiest to you growing up – guitar or drums – and what do you enjoy about each instrument that helps shape your approach and outlook for your musical endeavors?

Rios: Man, that is a really interesting question at this point in time. Because I’m having this Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde internal struggle with it as we speak. I was originally a guitar player, when I was a kid at nine years old, I asked for a guitar from my mother for Christmas. That is my first love, not the drums. We could never… my brother and I both learned to play guitar at the same time, we both got pretty good. Around twelve, we were like, someone has to play the drums, so I befriended a kid at school, got on this drum set, and immediately got to play. I studied; I found some success being a drummer. Interestingly during the pandemic, I completely rekindled my love and joy for playing the guitar. Almost to where I thought I wish I could just be a guitar player. But I love playing drums. I am currently in this Weeble wobble. If I could establish Kill Division where it grows legs, do some touring, and make it a real band, I feel like I will have some balance and be content with both instruments at the same time. If that makes any sense.

Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the body of work you’ve created, what do you consider some of the standout moments on record or through live performances, tours, festivals – where you knew you were making an impact with your craft?

Rios: Interestingly, just now this Left to Die tour, I don’t know how to describe what that’s even like. It’s like the movie Rock Star, where all of a sudden you find yourself on stage, playing Leprosy, which is my favorite death metal record of the genre. It’s my Reign in Blood for death metal. To be playing those songs, on stage, and to look out into that crowd and see those people with their general, almost visceral reaction to these songs, and reading the comments online was pretty special. Gruesome is also the kind of band that a lot of people have come up and said, thank you for keeping this sound alive. Gruesome has been very rewarding. Playing with Malevolent Creation was great. I toured with Brett a bunch of times. I’m very humbled, grateful, and fortunate that I have been able to do the things I’ve been able to do.

Hard work too. I studied, I practiced, I sacrificed a lot. There were no free rides, especially in this business. And even now, this Kill Division record to me is very, very important. I wrote the whole album except for “Barely Alive”, and people’s reaction to music I’ve composed, it carries its own unique weight. At this point in my career, I hope people like it. Always try to keep going forward, man.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the extreme metal music scene currently? Do you believe that we are in a highly fruitful, productive time period considering the numerous bands globally developing new music and supporting it?

Rios: I will say yes, it’s healthy. There are tons of bands. It’s endearing to go to a show and see seventeen-year-old kids with the jean jackets, back patches, big sneakers. These kids have the internet, they can go online and see pictures and see things of our time growing up. The cycle continues, it will never die. When I was on the Left to Die tour, to be hanging out with Rick and Terry, I asked them if they thought they would ever be playing these Death songs 34 years later? They said, ‘are you out of your mind?’. They were just punk kids from Florida, playing this music that nobody had a clue was going to last.

I think as long as, and it’s a psychological thing, as long as there is turmoil in the world, there will be a place for extreme music. Extreme music gives people a place to get rid of a lot of the tension and negativity in their lives through the music. I don’t like all of it, I don’t get into the 400 BPM stuff, but no hate. You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you define success when it comes to your musical career? Has that definition changed over the years?

Rios: I’ve been a professional, full-time musician probably since I was 21 years old. I make a living playing music. It’s a tough conversation to have, because there are so many people that have not achieved what I have achieved. The ambition in me always wants to achieve more. I go on tour, and I still have to strap on a guitar and play “Sweet Home Alabama” for drunk people, playing covers for a living. I’m grateful, I’m busy, but I wish I was in one of those bands that was big enough to go on tour three or four times a year, and not have to work when I am home. I strive to somehow achieve that.

Success by some people’s standards, I’ve been successful, and I recognize some of the success in myself. What’s the saying though? Satisfaction is the death of desire. I am always trying to strive for that next level.

Dead Rhetoric: You have talked openly about your mental health and attempted suicide issues over the past few years through a Decibel magazine online editorial piece. How are things going in therapy, what are you learning and applying the most that’s helping you gain clarity and perspective? Do you have any advice for other musicians or followers of your music if they are struggling themselves?

Rios: There’s another line from the band Hatebreed that gave us the line ‘satisfaction is the death of desire’. There is a line from their latest record that says, ‘truth is hard to stomach, when you feed yourself lies.’ For my personal mental health journey, I think the biggest thing I needed to do was come to terms with a lot of things. In particular, my abusive childhood that I had. At least for me, speaking to a medical professional and finding out why I think the things I do, why I feel the things I do, and there are medical reasons for it, made it help me not feel crazy. It helped me accept myself. That was my path. There is no cure, no one is going to ever say Gus Rios is a ball of sunshine. But I’m okay with who I am, and I don’t want to be dead anymore – and that’s a huge win.

I completely did it with therapy. The takeaway would be, if you are one of those people that’s like ‘I’m not going to talk to a therapist’, you are doing yourself a disservice. In my opinion. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I white knuckled my way through a bunch of really ugly shit through therapy, acceptance, and learning, medical and science. Finding out that (things) live in your nervous system, because I would say to myself ‘why am I still upset about something that happened forty years ago?’. It’s stuck in your nervous system, and it had to get repeated to me over and over again. But it’s not your fault. As soon as you say it’s not your fault, when you are a victim of something, that’s huge. Then you take the self-contempt, and it starts to go away, and you are on the path to becoming better.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe as males, we are stigmatized if we seek out professional, mental health resources like therapy?

Rios: 100%. It’s baffling to me. I remember talking to Albert from Decibel about this. I’m the first guy to be this open in extreme music about this, and we have a genre called doom metal. A whole genre about being depressed and suicidal, and we are not going to talk about this? Just now on these two tours that I’ve done this year, at least every single night somebody has come up to me and said, ‘I read that thing and it helped.’. I didn’t set out to be any kind of messiah or anything, but to know that just reading this somebody else feels the same way that you do, in a world where men and metal, you have to be macho, there’s nothing more brutal than looking in that mirror and facing the worst shit in your head. There’s nothing more brutal than that, trust me. Guys not talking to a therapist, in my opinion, that’s being a weakling. Facing yourself and facing your demons is the tough thing to do.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Kill Division and your other bands/projects over the next twelve months?

Rios: Kill Division we are playing in November, hopefully that hometown show goes well, and we can develop from there. I am leaving in a week to do a Gruesome tour of the West Coast and the central states. At some point, we will squeeze out another Left to Die tour. Those are my three main things. I have a goth metal thing called Union Black that in my heart of hearts I hope that will do something. I have to nurture things that are working, and hopefully other things can follow suit. That’s where I am at for the next twelve months. And there will be a new Gruesome record, I am sure next year we will get around to recording that – we are supposed to do our Human record. Which for me, I couldn’t have done that two years ago. Sean Reinert is my best friend for twenty-five years, I couldn’t have done that, I wasn’t in that headspace. I can look at that record as paying tribute to my brother.

Dead Rhetoric: Will this be an interesting arc for Gruesome, moving from the first three records of Death’s career parallel to what the band did on the back half of their career?

Rios: We have had an interesting conversation about this. What I think we will try to do – Death really is split into two camps. There are the people that love the first three records, and almost don’t like the techy stuff. And then there are the straight techy kids. I would like to try to bring the two together, do a version of Human that has a couple more toes in the sand of the old style while still turning the dial more progressive at the same time. To be honest, a lot of that is the drums. Human is basically Spiritual Healing riff-wise, just with way more advanced drumming. I’m not as good of a drummer as Sean was. I will pay tribute to my best friend, mentor, and drum teacher, and be myself. I’m a bigger fan of the old stuff, I will pull some of the meat and potatoes stuff into the more technical stuff to try to please everybody, I guess.

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