Morbid Cross – Possessed by MetalTuesday, 10th May 2022
Continuing to develop a brutal form of thrash that contains a veritable influence pool that draws from doom, hardcore, death, and non-metal aspects, New Jersey’s Morbid Cross prove that there’s plenty left in the tank for underground musicians to say. Their latest album Ungodly Infestation may be their broadest statement to date on record – savage and focused, tight as well as complex, executing material that can appeal to a wide array of heavy music followers crossing multiple generations. We reached out to vocalist Zach Marcus one afternoon by phone to bring us up to speed on the latest record, cold video shoots, the sick cover art, thoughts on genre hopping versus staying to your roots musically, and plenty of metal talk in this engaging conversation.
Dead Rhetoric: Ungodly Infestation is the latest Morbid Cross album – and possibly the most diverse offering to date for the group. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this set of material – and where do you see the differences compared to your last album Disciples of the Goat?
Zach Marcus: So, the writing process started initially with the first three songs. We were just going to do a three song EP, because those first three songs are about the three stages of demonic possession. The invitation, the incantation, and the possession. That’s all we were going to do. And then I got into my accident, COVID-19 happened immediately after that. We had all this downtime, so let’s just write a whole album. Which is what we did.
I think we all feel it’s a huge leap from Disciples. Not that Disciples wasn’t great or anything, we took the really complex writing from that album, what we felt was complex with “Forever Cursed” and “Choked with Insanity” – let’s continue with that style of writing. And do that with every song. The first three songs are a whole concept – we were watching movies like The Exorcist, possession movies. The rest of the songs, “Nurture Tends to Torture”, “End of Days”, and “Wrath of God” were written way after those three songs.
The recording was smooth and great. We recorded at Red Water Recording in Philadelphia, PA with Will Mellor. It was such a good time, super relaxed, which is what we needed.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there any songs that were more challenging than others – as the nine-minute plus epic “Prized Possession” definitely has more of a doomy feel compared to others on the record?
Marcus: “Prized Possession” definitely took on way more than we originally intended. We were going to cut it down a lot, but it’s so good the way that it is. When we wrote that originally, it started off without the fast-paced riff in the beginning, the first half. That punky riff – it started off super doomy and then it was going to change into – start off slow and then build up pace. We decided to start all guns blazing, then slow it down super hard and build it back up. It’s a huge roller coaster of a song. This album doesn’t have as many songs, and one is a cover. Let’s put all the bang for the buck on this song, let’s make it huge, so it’s an epic song.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea come about to tackle “Exciter” from Judas Priest’s Stained Class album this time around? Have you always been fans of the 70’s-era of the band just as much as say the more popular eras of the 80’s/early 90’s for the group?
Marcus: I think we all personally love the 70’s-era of Judas Priest the most. And that album in general, we love. We were thinking about doing “Sinner”, but we decided that “Exciter” was the better track to do. It’s a bit more fun, and we know that song like the back of our hands now. We love all eras of Priest, but my personal favorite era is 70’s Priest for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: Once again you worked with Shagrat (aka Timothy Jenkins of Acid Witch) for the brutal cover art design. What was the thought process and discussion relating to the title and executing the idea – as it surely elicits a shock and awe response for some, but probably appeals to the underground thrash/death maniacs everywhere?
Marcus: Yes, Shagrat is great. The last album cover was my idea for Disciples of the Goat. This time around Alex our bass player, he wanted to handle the idea. We would talk over ideas, we were super influenced by possession/horror movies like The Exorcist and all that stuff, it’s blatantly inspired by that. It’s inspired by Amityville Horror a little bit too. He was running to me with ideas – Shagrat nails it all the time. He’s really good at painting an image, and really getting our ideas onto art. It’s super great.
Dead Rhetoric: You also shot a video for “Serpent’s Tongue”. How did that video shoot go – as it portrays a little bit what you get to experience when taking in a Morbid Cross live performance?
Marcus: Yeah, I think so. (laughs). The video shoot was very cold. It was twenty something degrees all day that day. We filmed that video across the street from our bass player’s house in Elmer. His parents bought the house four years ago, gutted it and they were going to redo it to sell it. It’s been four years now, and we had this idea that has been set in stone for two years. So, we decided to film it there. They weren’t using the house, so we used it. Lot of beer drank, and a lot of pizza was eaten. It worked out with that house as it’s so creepy there, and there is a barn/garage next to it, and that worked out for the second half of the video. It was super easy to show up at our bass player’s house and just walk across the street.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that the pandemic is winding down, it seems like Morbid Cross has been back playing local/regional shows. Tell us how things have gone with these shows recently – have you seen a strong audience response and turnouts because of the lack of entertainment in this regard for the past few years?
Marcus: Shows have been going – we just keep getting asked left and right to play more shows. It’s been great. It feels like it is back to normal, to an extent. Of course, in the back of your head nothing is normal anymore, but it’s been fantastic playing show after show. We are setting up small tours out of state. There is energy, and not energy. We come off usually it depends on the bill you are on and the bands that are playing with you. Sometimes we will get an odd lineup and we are on it, all these goth bands and then us, and we don’t necessarily fit. And we go on, people will either go nuts or start retreating (laughs). It’s cool, it is what it is. We will play for whoever, with whoever, we don’t care.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe the diverse bills matter more than always playing with a slew of thrash/death-oriented acts all the time?
Marcus: I enjoy the diverse ones especially, because sometimes there is a diamond in the rough on those bills. Finding a really awesome band, and you end up playing more shows with them down the line. We have made friends with many bands that are totally not metal, they do their own thing. We want to get more shows with hardcore bands, stuff like that. We want to branch out as much as possible. Playing with other thrash bands and death metal bands, it’s all great. But we don’t mind being on a diverse bill at all.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you content to remain an independent, DIY artist or would you like to move up the ranks and sign with a record label for additional support and promotion? If so, what types of things would you look for to make the move to sign a record deal?
Marcus: I think it’s safe to say that everyone’s dream when they are in a band is to get signed to a label, whether it be an independent label or a major label. We would love to get signed, but we are not jonesing to get signed. We are not going to take the first deal that comes our way. It’s not the 80’s or 90’s anymore. You do not need a record label to make it as a band, at all. Would it be awesome if say Metal Blade Records were to hit us up for a deal? I would jump on that, Nuclear Blast, Hells’ Headbangers – labels that I’ve always looked up to and we’ve looked up to. We would love to be on a label like that. We get hit up for independent stuff all the time, out of Mexico, Brazil, Germany. We all know if they are blowing smoke up our ass. We don’t need to take those types of risks.
If we get signed, going on full-on tours, that would be awesome, and a dream come true. Until that time comes, we’ll stick to being an independent band for sure. We are doing pretty good for ourselves so far.
Dead Rhetoric: What has heavy metal meant to you personally as a genre? Can you think of specific times where a certain band or album helped you get through a tough or challenging time in your life – to pull you up for the better?
Marcus: Oh man. Metal has kept me going since I was eight or nine years old. It’s always been there, whether I am angry, happy, sad, or whatever. Any emotion, feeling grief or loss, if you listen to metal, you know it’s always there. There are countless songs I could name off that have helped me through tough times, but the album Relentless Retribution by Death Angel, that album helped me through so many hardships. The new Vio-lence EP, that makes me so happy for metal right now. To come back 29 years later and still kicking ass. Getting new bands albums – Plague Years, we opened up for them recently. They are a new death metal band in an old school sense with some thrash influences going on, hardcore as well. I bought their new album when we opened up for them in Philly, and that album rules. Gives me hope.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some common mistakes or missteps that you see younger musicians making in the scene that you would love to see them avoid or learn from?
Marcus: The one mistake is – kids come up to you and say they can’t wait to start a band. People I meet find out I am in a band, they think they know what my band is actually all about at the level we are at, they think it’s huge when we really are not. It’s a full-time job on its own, you don’t get much financial support. People think we are making money, it’s not that at all. It’s hard work, you have to be really determined and you have to sacrifice a lot: money, time, and be very tenacious when starting a band and continue this all the way through.
I see a lot of bands also changing up their genre left and right. Everyone is changing things up, complete 180’s. Stick to what you started with, that’s what I would tell other bands. What you started with, if you can’t do it with that, there’s no point in continuing, in my opinion. With us, we are not changing how we are doing things. There may be slight differences here and there, but we are not completely changing our sound. However long this band lasts, we will be Morbid Cross.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of the world currently, coming out of this global pandemic? What do you think are the biggest concerns that the leaders of the world need to tackle, and where should the focus be for the average person to achieve more of what they want and desire in life?
Marcus: The world is a mess right now. Even with things opening up, the world is a mess. At this point, this is my generation’s Nixon-era, it seems. Cancel culture running rampant, the pandemic still going two years strong now, racial wars, all the same stuff that was happening in the 80’s and in the 90’s. It’s a reoccurring cycle. I never trust the government a day in my life, and I don’t know why anyone would. That’s my two cents on that.
Dead Rhetoric: Over the last decade, you lost both your mother and father. How has that shaped you as a person, and changed your lifestyle over the years?
Marcus: It pushed me to really go gung-ho and push with doing my band. My father, he believed in it before he passed away. I had good graces with him. My mother, she didn’t really understand this. I feel like if she were here today, she may be happier about it. It pushes you when you lose your parents. Whatever your passion is, you can go one of two ways. You can go downhill or uphill. I choose to try to go uphill, chase my dreams. It taught me that life is short, get on with it. If you fail, you fail – if you don’t, more power to you.
Dead Rhetoric: Did the death of an influential singer like Riley from Power Trip also affect you?
Marcus: Yes, it affected all of us. We were all fans of Power Trip. It’s just a shame, he wasn’t much older than I am. It was a huge loss. Power Trip in general really put thrash back on the map, they were the powerhouse for my generation. We were all pretty upset about it. Some tears shed and drinks, blasting their music. I can only hope they will come back, even if it’s with another singer, but I don’t see that happening. Riley was one in a million with his voice and his power, his tenacity. His stage presence from what I saw, was awesome.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the schedule for Morbid Cross over the next twelve months as far as shows, promotion, etc.? Has work already begun behind the scenes on the next recording or release, and if so, what can the followers expect?
Marcus: Show-wise we have a couple of dates in May. We will play at Dingbatz in New Jersey, and May 27th we will place close to home, a garage show at our buddy’s house. In June we will play out of state, going to Georgia and South Carolina, out with Neverfall who are from that area. They are awesome dudes, we played with them a few years ago in Philly, and we had no idea who they were. Our jaws dropped; they were so awesome. We just signed on for a March 11th, 2023, show playing in Baltimore, a metal festival where we are opening for Hirax. I remember listening to them when I was 15 or 16, they are awesome.
The songwriting is super skeletal. We have only one song right now. We are slowly trying to write again. We are still loving the album; we have songs to play that people have not heard yet. Now that the album is out, we will play more of the new stuff live. We are trying to get this new album out to people, whether it’s over digital means, buying the CD, or hearing it live.