The Virginia blackened death metal group Grethor are this week’s Meet The Band featured artist. After releasing several EPs over the years, they have just unleashed their full-length debut Damnitio Memoriae. Vocalist Marcus Lawrence, drummer Anthony Rouse and guitarist/bassist Tony Petrocelly introduce us to their band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Grethor.
Anthony Rouse: Grethor was started by Marcus Lawrence, Bobby Lute and Willy Rivera in 2007 as a side project. All three of them were in death metal and doom bands, but grew up listening to old school black metal bands like Bathory and Venom. After releasing their first demo in 2008, the lineup that recorded that demo dissolved. Marcus and Bobby recruited a drummer and bassist and released the Monody for Artemis demo in 2009. Both the drummer and bassist left in 2010.
Towards the end of 2011 I joined the band on drums. We went through a few guitarists and a bassist before Nick Rothe and Andy McComas joined. That lineup went on to record and release the Galaxia Infinitum EP in 2013. Andy and Bobby left the band the following year and we brought Mike Lewis and Brian Frost on board, then went on to release our critically acclaimed EP Cloaked in Decay in 2015. Mike left at the end of that year and we recruited Tony Petrocelly on guitar, then went on to record Damnatio Memoriae.
Marcus Lawrence: That pretty much sums it up. The only thing I can add there is that we played a handful of shows with and old local symphonic black metal band called Cult of Discordia that has since disbanded. We were the classic black jeans, leather and corpse paint band, and didn’t give a shit if we even played in time (live), so much as we just had a sort of aesthetic on display. That was what it was in the beginning, and it morphed into different things, as people contributed new ideas, it became many different things.
Describe the songwriting and recording process for Damnatio Memorie.
Tony Petrocelly: In terms of the instruments, Brian (Frost, lead guitar) wrote three songs and Anthony (Rouse, drums) wrote the rest. I didn’t write entire songs, but contributed melodies when orchestrating the songs to accomodate three guitars (left, center, right) rather than just the standard two (left, right). I also had a somewhat heavy hand in editing and structuring the songs, which had more to do with my role as recording engineer than guitarist. The recording process was pretty protracted, it was affected by a number of life-happens type things. Anthony finished his drum tracks first, and once we got started recording guitars in earnest, it went pretty quickly. Brian had moved to Chicago by that time, and was able to secure studio time to track his leads.
Anthony: I think Tony is selling himself a bit short. (laughs) He definitely wrote some incredible riffs and passages on some of the songs, such as “The Imminent Unknown” and “Tongue of Argent,” as well as making some changes to pre-existing riffs to make them sound even better than anything I could come up with. Writing this album also gave us an opportunity to revisit some old songs that never made it past the demo stage and completely redo them or tweak them and make them better, so that was fun.
Marcus: My contribution was lyrics, as I do not play an instrument, and that consisted of watching/reading the news, and the election cycle of 2016, and the global political landscape at large sort of unraveling. At least what seemed to be at a much more alarming rate. Between that and a lot of reading, as I have read a lot of more realistic dystopian sci-fi, my favorite being Paulo Bacigalupi, who seems to a have a more journalistic style to building his worlds, and the great American writer Sinclair Lewis, who seemed to have predicted all of this back in 1932. I put all of this to paper. It just seemed the prudent thing to do, I guess.
How would you characterize the album’s style/sound?
Tony: Pretty broad. Dark and jagged.
Anthony: I think it embodies both dissonant and melodic qualities, a melting pot of black metal, death metal and doom metal
Marcus: All of that. I have always liked the term “black death” as a genre. That’s perfectly fine with me.
What are some of the lyrical topics you address?
Anthony: The rise of demagogues, dehumanization, the decline of critical thinking.
Marcus : All of that, and to elaborate, the refusal to heed a warning. We seem to have this horrible philosophy in this county that reality is whatever you want it to be, and that you can believe whatever you want because you are an American, and you are entitled to that reality. It’s not supposed to infringe upon others, but as long as there’s is this sort of concave chamber of everything you regurgitate being spewed right back at you in a vacuum of confirmation bias. People are losing the ability to communicate because they form a tribalistic council to to judge others outside the tribe, as if blogs were now the new gospel. It’s only half a thought, because it’s not really yours, and you repeat their buzzwords, and their doctrine.
Then there is a sort of hyper-capitalistic irresponsibility in media that keeps people believing themselves the gatekeepers of the doctrine, all for the purpose of clicks for the advertising revenue. There is no editing, no fact checking, and certainly no concern for journalistic integrity, but there is definitely fear and hyperbole in all of it. I wouldn’t call it Orwellian (as it is not to benefit the state), but it is certainly Kafkaesque (It exists to perpetuate its faceless self).
I had always written about the dangers of anti-intellectualism, the importance of myth, and the rise of horrifying moments in time, but this is where we are now.
No cause that does not tolerate dissent is worth fighting for.
Having released several demos and EPs already, what are your goals and expectations for your debut full-length?
Anthony: To build upon the sound we established with Cloaked in Decay and marry it with the black metal style of our earlier years. We’re not looking to revolutionize black metal and death metal per se, but to craft something that would reflect who we are as musicians while also making it an enjoyable, intense listening experience.
Marcus: I would have to agree with that, and add that we’re creating something we would listen to, and hope you enjoy it even more.
What has the early response been like?
Tony: Overwhelmingly positive, which is gratifying considering how much time and work went into it.
Anthony: I’ll echo what Tony is saying and concur that the response so far has been incredibly positive. I couldn’t be happier with it.
Marcus : I am overwhelmed, honestly. I have been here from the beginning, and have been playing this stuff with not much recognition, so that my expectations are already lowered. Needless to say I am grateful, and slightly humbled.
What has been your most memorable Grethor live show?
Tony: We played a show that was shut down by police when we were I think 8 minutes into our set.
Anthony: I have played two shows that have been cut short due to cops shutting down the show. I also have fond memories playing with Cab Ride Home (their ex-vocalist is now a delegate for the 13th district), Gloom, and Venomspitter (no longer together, sadly) at Raw Ink in Maryland.
Marcus : I remember every show. Every one. That Raw Ink one was great. I loved those Hagerstown VFW shows, I loved playing that old church in Alexandria and having
my hearing temporarily blown out by Fortress, just every one. I have recounted the tale of the first Grethor show, and I will be brief in recounting it again. We had no
monitors, and couldn’t hear each other. Once Bobby played the wrong song for a couple lines, and I looked back and he was laughing through his corpse paint, and looked over to see Willy shrug. It was pure chaos, and people loved it. They walked up to me, saying “That was black metal as fuck!”, and I just agreed. I have loved all of this, really. The people I’ve met, hanging out with guys like Davis Mullen, who has always supported this scene, just all of that.
What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
Anthony: None at the moment.
Marcus: Stay tuned, as there will be updates as soon as things get sorted out, etc. I can’t say much beyond that, as there is nothing to say. Not yet.
How did you get started in music?
Tony: As far back as I can remember I always wanted to play music and be in a band, and when I got my first job, I bought my first guitar. It’s just been year after year of always trying to play better, write better, record better.
Anthony: I got to play on a drum set for a minute in eighth grade, from there I knew that music was my creative calling. I got my first drum set at 13 years old. From there, it was a long journey of learning and improving.
Marcus: I come from a musical family, and my dad played in a lot of bands. I do remember thinking FreddieMercury was just an amazing persona and force onstage, and for a kid who was so painfully shy he was like a god to me. I think my need to explore fronting these bands coincided with my interest in acting, as I sort of morphed in my late teens, sort of emerged from a cocoon. I think cultivating those abilities complimented each other. I needed a way to sort of release myself from crippling depression, and it did exactly that. I guess I will add more by answering the next question.
What drew you to metal?
Tony: As a kid, I was always drawn to uptempo, aggressive music. I remember staying up past my bedtime to listen to the Top 5 at 9, a daily countdown of the most popular songs on a local radio station, because “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue was on it every night for a while. What cemented it for me though was when I saw the video for “One” by Metallica. I was nine years old, and it was the most intense thing I’d ever seen. From there, it escalated pretty quickly, always trying to find the fastest band, the heaviest band, the most evil, the most gruesome. Luckily I have a more nuanced view on it all now though. (laughs)
Anthony: Like many teenagers, I went through an edgy, rebellious phase growing up. I had anger issues, so naturally the aggressive nature of metal music was highly appealing to me. As a kid I already liked Metallica, then I got into nu-metal, then finally I was introduced to In Flames, and that was my gateway band into extreme metal music.
Marcus: It was definitely a progression. My childhood was quite the mixed bag, and a viewpoint that would be formed by poverty and trauma, but music and the support of highly positive figures in my life (and being in and out of therapy), that kept me from developing toxic personality disorders.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Tony: In terms of the desire to play music, the list would be almost infinite. In terms of shaping my style of playing guitar, it would most definitely be the thrash I grew up with: Metallica, Testament, Slayer, Megadeth and especially S.O.D.
Anthony: The Gothenburg scene got me into extreme metal. For drums, my earliest influences were Dirk Verbeuren, Gene Hoglan and Martin Axenrot, and I still consider them influential to my style. For songwriting, my earliest influences were Sybreed, Hypocrisy, Bloodbath, that kind of stuff.
Marcus: I were to be specific, I was definitely raised on Queen, and my dad listened to a lot of different things, but it was the intensity of Beethoven and Holst, and the big arena rock bands like Boston or Kansas that he would blast at high volumes that then attracted me to punk, as well as my tendency towards being an outsider. I then got into harder rock like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, and that sort of became Tool, Clutch, Rage Against The Machine, Metallica, etc.
I would say the dam really broke with Sepultura. They were the gateway in my late teens, as my tastes began to veer towards the more extreme, just because I wanted to absorb everything. I was never content to do otherwise, and I got into a handful of hardcore bands, but I didn’t love them as much as Meshuggah, Cannibal Corpse or Testament, and it just kept going from there, to different death metal bands, and black metal shortly thereafter. Especially Emperor, Immortal, Dissection, 1349, Marduk, etc.
What was the first metal concert you attended?
Tony: Mine was Metallica, Danzig and Suicidal Tendencies in 1994.
Anthony: Slipknot, Lamb of God, and Shadows Fall in 2004.
Marcus: Man. I had been to a butt ton of local shows, and don’t remember the first. For extreme metal, it was Slayer in 1999. I wasn’t allowed to go to many shows as a (Mormon) teenager, but I did see Rage Against The Machine in 1996.
What’s the metal scene like in northern Virginia?
Tony: I was just talking with Anthony about it this morning. The scene in northern Virginia is for the most part split in two, with local bands that play shows all the time and niche bands who tend not to play shows, but have much more exposure nationally and internationally via the internet. The local scene bands by and large are much more straightforward, traditional hard rock/bar metal, whereas the niche bands are more extreme and specialized.
Marcus: That was a fair assessment.
What is your take on the first year of the Trump presidency?
Tony: Holy fuck.
Marcus: Read the lyrics. (It’s worse than I’d thought)
Seen any good movies/DVDs lately?
Anthony: I saw Blade Runner 2049 recently, and I was floored at how good it was.
Marcus: The Disaster Artist was amazing. I also just finished “Dark” on Netflix and I highly recommend it, as well as “Alias Grace”. Margaret Atwood is a brilliant writer, and it’s based on one of hers.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Tony: I don’t really get much of a chance to listen to music recreationally anymore, it’s all checking mixes and masters of the bands I work with.
Anthony: I’ve been listening to a lot of God Dethroned lately, haven’t checked out their new album though.
Marcus: Nagual. Good melodic black metal.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Tony: I’ve got a band called Construct of Lethe that’s going to be releasing our third album Exiler shortly.
Anthony: Hope everyone enjoys our new album!
Marcus: Get our album, enjoy it. I am also about to play one of the leads in a web series called “Rock, Paper Scissors,” where I play a vampire. Production starts in
(interview published February 3, 2018)