Xenosis – Obsessive InnovationSaturday, 24th February 2018
Back story: the first band this scribe witnessed when moving to CT in the fall of 2015 from MA happens to be the focus of this interview – Xenosis. Performing an opening slot set in a small all-ages venue in Danbury, CT around Halloween, they would take advantage of costumes to portray their blistering intricacies within their progressive death metal framework, while still delivering massive hooks and grooves. Not as easy as one would think, but that has a lot to do with the meticulous balance and genuine affinities for songwriting that this quintet has developed throughout their career.
Their latest release Devour and Birth embraces heavy riffs and off-time subtilties, swirled in twin harmonic aural ecstasy – plus the deep growls that keep the band firmly a part of the death metal community. As much as you can hear all eras of Death, Morbid Angel, and even Meshuggah in their work, there’s also affinity and appreciation for the classic acts like King Diamond, Savatage, and Testament in spots that make the band very unique in a global scene where conformity and categorization appear to be the norm.
Guitarist Mark Lyon kindly answered these questions- where he brings us up to speed on the lineup changes that took place between albums, the work behind the record, the development of a Death tribute act, and the future development of the group.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you bring everyone up to speed with the lineup changes in the guitar and vocal department of Xenosis that occurred in the interim before your latest album release of Devour and Birth, and why these changes took place? Did this put any delays on the release of the new record?
Mark Lyon: We had Jeff Haddad on vocals and Ernie DelVecchio on guitar for our 2015 release Sowing the Seeds of Destruction. Ernie decided to leave the band to pursue other avenues, and we were on the phone with our friend (current guitarist) Kenny Bullard, later that day. Jeff needed surgery that prevented him from singing for an extended period of time and had a lot of other commitments, so he stepped down.
Our current singer, Sal Bova, had previously contacted us just as Jeff was first joining the band. We searched through our old emails and found Sal’s information when Jeff left the band. We reached out to Sal, and he came to rehearsal that same day. It did not delay our album, because Gary Marotta (drums) and I had barely started writing for it. Sal and Kenny learned all of Sowing the Seeds… and we started arranging new music right away.
Dead Rhetoric: Devour and Birth is the latest release – where do you see this record in the Xenosis discography, are there many differences as far as songwriting, intricacies, recording, or performances that you believe make this stand out in comparison to your previous work?
Lyon: Progressive death metal is such a demanding genre. Innovation and songwriting have always been our key factors. We are all music nerds who love odd rhythms, negative harmony, etc, so it’s a lot of fun for us to write and play this stuff. We always strive to outdo ourselves, and it seems that the critiques agree that we achieve that goal with every album. I think we are most proud of this latest album.
Aside from tracking drums at Dexter’s Lab with engineer Nick Bellmore, most of the engineering for the tracking was handled by our drummer, Gary, with help from our bassist Dave Legenhausen. Gary was very patient and strict, making sure we got the tightest takes possible. Nick Bellmore was the primary mixing engineer with direction from Xenosis. The record was then mastered by Chris ‘Zeus’ Harris per Nick’s recommendation. This combination resulted in a great production.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the band balance out the progressive death intricacies while also writing material that contains a proper amount of melodic/harmony hooks? Are there times where you have to drill deep into the nuances of the songwriting to get things just right?
Lyon: In many cases, the first step in our writing process is that one of us will get a new melody or rhythm stuck in our head, hence the catchiness. The proggy aspects come pretty naturally in our writing. Some songs were pretty much written in one night, and then hashed out at rehearsal, while other songs take months of obsessing over the arrangements to get them where we want them to be.
Dead Rhetoric: Who are some of the songwriters and guitarists that you’ve admired through the years – and do you believe that you are consistently working and refining your technique and craft as a guitarist and songwriter?
Lyon: A few metal guys who I really admire are Chuck and the rest of the dudes from Death, Eric Peterson & Alex Skolnick from Testament, Ihsahn, Trey from Morbid Angel, the guys in Meshuggah, Cannibal Corpse, Atheist, Cynic, etc.
There is no end to refining my technique and songwriting in sight. I live for this shit. There is always so much to learn.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us the thought process behind the album cover for Devour and Birth – do you believe that the visual medium still has relevance even in the digital download world to give a preview into what listeners can expect from a band before even hearing a note?
Lyon: The cover art was designed by a Brazilian artist named Caio Caldas. We thought the piece really paired well with our sound.
Dead Rhetoric: The members of Xenosis also started a Death tribute act Cross-Turned Dagger – how did this come about, and how much fun is it to explore all eras of the Death discography? What would you consider the ultimate Death record and three of the quintessential Death songs?
Lyon: When Sal and Kenny first joined the band, we booked a show on May 13th, 2016, which would have been Chuck’s 49th birthday. We figured we should do a Death song to celebrate. The idea of doing one song led to doing a song from each of the seven records. We now know over twenty Death tunes, inside and out. Solos, drum fills, meticulously placed vocals, everything. We have a blast doing it!
The first Death album I heard at age 11 was Symbolic. I go through phases with all the different albums, but I always find myself returning to that record. We have performed music from all the releases at every show to date. For our next show on May 12th at Cherry Street Station in Wallingford, CT, we decided to do things a little differently. This time, we are going to do Symbolic in its entirety.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe Xenosis stylistically stands out in a New England scene that contains diverse bands in diverse genres – and does this make it a challenge to find the ideal bills to set yourselves up for in terms of live performances?
Lyon: There are some really incredible bands throughout New England, so it is actually sort of easy to find the right acts to play with. We do think we have our own unique sound however, and are pretty proud of that. In an attempt to gain fans in other states, we prefer to do show swaps. We are really excited to play with The Beast of Nod from MA and Rise to Burn from NY at our May 12th show.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is internal chemistry and friendships to the development of the band? Do you share any interests and hobbies/passions outside of the music that you think helps the band creatively or in the work environment long-term?
Lyon: Absolutely. Everyone in Xenosis are close friends. We have such a great time together at rehearsal, parties, and supporting each other’s endeavors. It makes communication a lot easier.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges the band faces in climbing up the ranks as far as popularity and long-term appeal? Do you focus more on the quality of your output and audience versus necessarily the quantity in both areas?
Lyon: Exposure, distribution, label awareness, and profitability. We need a vehicle that we can tour in! Quality over quantity is so necessary in such a demanding and specialized genre.
Dead Rhetoric: What new releases have been impressing you the most in metal lately? And what are a few classics that you consistently return to when you need that pick me up?
Lyon: There were some great releases in 2017; Immolation, Morbid Angel, Decrepit Birth, Cavalera Conspiracy, Leprous, our good friends in Replacire and Archaic Decapitator.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the game plan for Xenosis over the rest of 2018?
Lyon: Our first official music video is about to be released on February 20th through our YouTube channel. The publication, Invisible Oranges, is going to premiere it. The video came out great, and we are very excited about it. We are going to continue promoting Devour and Birth and hopefully do some small tours. When the time comes, we will begin the writing process again. Thanks so much for having us on Dead Rhetoric, Matt.