Spend enough time writing about music and it’s pretty easy to become at least slightly jaded in a “there are no new ideas in metal – everything that can be done has already been done.” And to a certain extent, that really is true – when’s the last time a band created a completely new genre? Most genre innovation these days comes from combining elements from existing genres in unfamiliar ways (see: post-anything metal). That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t bands out there that still do an effective job of defying listener expectations. For example, take Costa Rican death metal quintet Corpse Garden. Their name suggests yet another gore-obsessed death metal band, but that’s definitely not accurate. Listen to the first few songs from the forthcoming IAO 269 and you’ll think “oh, so they’re actually a dissonant, Gorguts-inspired type of band.” But that’s not quite right, either. In fact, the longer I spend with IAO 269, the less sure I am of what exactly to call it. And that, Vault Hunters, is a rare phenomenon indeed.
Luckily, Corpse Garden vocalist Felipe Tencio was gracious enough to answer a few questions via email. In the end, I’m not positive how much closer I got to figuring out what exactly drives this band to make the sort of music they do, but I think it ended up being an excellent conversation all the same.
IAO 269 will be available on November 24 from Godz ov War Productions. You can preorder it on CD or digitally here after checking out my interview with Tencio below.
Indy Metal Vault: So it’s a totally unoriginal way to start an interview, but for readers who are unfamiliar with Corpse Garden, can you give us a brief history of the band? I know that IAO 269 is your third full-length, and that there have been a few lineup changes over the years. How long has the lineup responsible for this record been together?
Felipe Tencio: Hello. Thank you for your interest and providing this space. Corpse Garden was formed back in 2008 by a completely different line up than the present one, and its initial sound was completely different as well since it was oriented to a more traditional gore-oriented type of death metal. This is the band’s third full length, as you mentioned, and the second by this line up. The band’s current incarnation was conceived back in 2013 with a different musical intention in mind. Luckily, we all have fluid musical communication so we’ve managed to remain constant while developing and exploring our own sound.
IMV: IAO 269 is a pretty incredible record, and the thing I think I find the most striking about it is the way it really plays with the listeners’ expectations. The first four songs are some really enjoyable examples of dissonant, old school death metal, but then with “La muerte: Principio y redención,” the album takes a sharp turn into uncharted territories and becomes something else entirely, very little of which feels like death metal. I’ve listened to the second half of “The Elevenfold Vibration” numerous time and still have no clue what to call it, and parts of “Expanding the Vision Call” almost sound like avant-jazz fusion. Did you set out to write such an eclectic, challenging record, or was it something that evolved naturally over the course of the songwriting process?
FV: The sound of IAO 269 is the natural product of the musical philosophy that we adopted. Of course, we are an extreme metal band with lots of extreme metal influences, hence our music has a foundation in this. However, we also try to incorporate the vast majority of our non-metal influences as well. We don’t like to box ourselves in a particular style, be it in aesthetics or the music itself. What we did with this record was to blur the boundaries or limitations one may encounter while writing a song and let things flow and find their own place. It wasn’t our intention per se to make a difficult record to digest just for the sake of being different. What we do in Corpse Garden is very personal, our views and the energies we try to channel are manifested through our music and the final outcome is the product of that.
IMV: Speaking of songwriting, even the more straightforward tracks (relatively speaking) are still really dense and challenging listens. What’s that writing process like? Is it mostly one person working everything out and then bringing it to everyone else? Do you jam things out in the practice room? A bit of both?
FV: A bit of both. Usually, songs revolve around an idea one of us brings to the table and we build it later on in the practice room. We use a lot of layering in our music, so naturally we need a starting point. Whenever we get something we can work with, we start creating around it and modifying it without trying to achieve a specific sound for it, thus allowing it to transform with freedom. Songs like “The Elevenfold Vibration” are a good example of this because we built that second part that you speak of around the drum beat, adding noises and creating an atmosphere with the strings, synth and vocals while modulating its intensity.
IMV: I’m really curious about the album title, IAO 269. I did a bit of digging online to see if I could unpack it myself, but I came up empty. What’s the meaning behind it? Between the cryptic title and the way the album unfolds musically, I almost get the feeling that this is a concept album. Is there some sort of unifying idea behind it?
FV: A unifying idea behind it sounds more fitting than an actual concept album like our previous release Entheogen was. We don’t wish to go deep into this as part of our ideals include not being explicit about the lyrical content of our music and letting the listener interiorize the texts to understand on a subconscious level. The album deals with subjects of occultism and observations of the human psyche from a mystical perspective. IAO is a magical formula of life, death and rebirth. It stands for Isis, Apophis and Osiris. While 269 is a combination that represents ourselves using numerology.
IMV: Corpse Garden is actually the first band I’ve interviewed who have worked with Colin Marston, which is a bit surprising given how many albums he’s been involved with. How did you end up hooking up with him? What was the recording process like?
FV: We contacted Colin via email after coming to terms with the fact that the organic production style we wished to achieve for this album was not possible in our country. Being followers of both his work as a producer and musician, we knew he was the right choice for what we had in mind. He was very straight forward and open to the idea so we booked our time and arrived at his studio in Queens, NY on the first week of January this year. All of the tracks were recorded in one week, strings and drums were recorded live, and most of them are the result of just one take. After that, we laid down the vocal tracks, reamped guitars and worked on arrangements and effects. Colin is a great producer to work with, he gave us total freedom over our creation and understood perfectly all of our visions for the album.
IMV: A lot of our readers are gear nerds, so I always like to ask about rigs. There seem to be a lot of different guitar and bass tones throughout IAO 269. What did your studio setups look like? Are they similar to what you take out on the road?
FV: For guitars we used a Peavy 5150 head and two different cabs, Mesa Boogie for one guitar and Orange for the other. They were direct line recordings that were later reamped. For bass guitar we used a Traynor TS-50 B amp. We try to stay loyal to the gear used on the album to succesfully create a live version of the songs with similar tones and textures. However, this is not possible all the time so we have to figure it out with whatever is available at that specific moment.
IMV: As of right now, it looks like IAO 269 is slated to be released on CD and digitally by Godz ov War Productions. Any hopes or plans to release it on any formats? I’d be into a copy on cassette myself.
FV: It will be available on cassette as well on release date. There is also a vinyl version planned for the first half of 2018.
IMV: What are your touring plans for the record? Any chance you’ll make it to the States?
FV: I can’t speak of anything concrete yet since we are in the process of confirming our tour plans, but we do have the intention to tour our vicinity first and then expand onto other territories. We want to tour the States and Europe for sure, but we are still working on that as it takes lots of planning as you may know. We will keep our social platforms updated as soon as the news arrive.
IMV: I know that Central America has been a metal hotbed for years, but I’ve been trying to think of any other metal bands from Costa Rica and I’m not coming up with any. For any readers who wanted to dive a bit deeper into the Costa Rican scene (and, honestly, myself), what other bands would you recommend checking out?
IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’ll leave the last word to you – anything else you’d like to add?
FV: I want to thank you again for your interest in our music and providing this space. IAO 269 will be released in less than two weeks so stay tuned for more updates and an album stream coming very soon.