Interview with vocalist and guitarist Paul Riedl
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 27, 2023
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
My sincere thanks to Jere Saajoranta of Ginger Vine Management for setting up the interview.
Blood Incantation, formed in Denver, Colorado in 2011, have come a long way since their formation, with two full-length studio albums and several other releases during their 12 years of existence. The band has done remarkable tours, raising their profile around the globe and their recent tour in the States during April-May 2023, with Obituary, Immolation and Ingrown, brought them to some bigger venues they had never played before.
These Colorado death metal junkies have visited the northern part of Europe quite a few times and the band's two shows in Finland in June 2022 were both sold out. On June 30, 2023, they invaded the precious Tuska Festival, held annually in Helsinki, Finland, and that was by far the band's biggest festival in Finland so far.
The Metal Crypt managed to catch up with the talkative and very polite vocalist and guitarist Paul Riedl before their show and we discussed touring, somewhat surprising artwork related matters, the band's success stories so far, upcoming new material, and so on. Read on...
EXPERIENCES IN FINLAND
Welcome to Finland and the Tuska Festival in particular, Paul!
Paul: Always a privilege being in Finland. We love it.
How has your experience here at the Tuska Festival been this time?
Paul: So far, great. The night is young. It is only eight o'clock or so. It's going to be great. The sun is still up. This is by far the largest show we've ever played in Finland. We've played in Helsinki and Turku and Tampere. We played in Helsinki three times, I think, and once in Tampere and once in Turku. This is definitely a great show to play. The company said this is the best crew ever and that is 100% accurate. It's the most calm and well-managed backstage I've ever dealt with.
That's great to hear. You visited Finland last year, playing two gigs in Finland: One in Tampere and one here in Helsinki. Do you still recall the turnout at those two gigs?
Paul: They were great. They were both sold out. We played with Immolation and Gorephilia at both shows and Antti from Demilich came on stage with us in Tampere. He did a guest vocal on our last album on the song "Inner Paths (to Outer Space)", which is an instrumental with one growl. We added the growl because on Demilich's Nespithe album there is also an instrumental with just one growl.
We thought that would be cute to have the guy who did the instrumental with one growl do the one growl on our instrumental. He came on stage with us at the Tampere show and also at Hellfest last year because they played there as well. This was great. Two sold-out shows, packed houses, crazy crowds. They were awesome.
BARELY ALIVE IN AMERICAN TOUR 2023
You just recently finished your tour in the States with Obituary and Immolation, both American death metal legends. How would you sum up that tour?
Paul: It was great. Possibly the easiest tour we've done yet.
So, everything worked smoothly...?
Paul: Yes, absolutely. It was, I think, our 16th tour, and it's our third tour with Immolation. Those guys are just the chillest, most real dudes. That's why they're still at the top, 35 years in, and Obituary made everybody feel comfortable from the first day of the tour. Everybody was super accommodating. Don struck his drum kit every night, even on stages that had enough room for two kits. Obituary would even strike their drum kit. It was remarkable. Sometimes it wasn't, and it was like, "This is too big of a stage, let's just do this," or time constraints.
Everybody was super accommodating. It was our first tour in the States in a little minibus. It was the first time in the States somebody was driving us. We had a merch person, we had a driver, we had a dedicated sound person for our package. It was the easiest, most [*chuckles*] fun, relaxed tour. There was very little stress. Obituary is huge. They're bigger than they've ever been. They were booked into a lot of venues that we would never have an opportunity to play in. We made a lot of new fans almost every night. A lot of kids, because Obituary plays a lot of all-ages shows, which is cool for these really big venues. A band like us, we predominantly play in like 200 to 400 capacity clubs that are usually bars and kids can't go in. There were a lot of proper venues with multiple stages or real soundchecks and real backstages and things like that.
We had a lot of 16 and up shows, a lot of all-ages shows. Kids were there every night with their metal vests and growing their hair out. They have one patch, maybe one's upside down or something but they're really eager and they come and they're like, "I've never heard of you guys before, I just bought all of your merch. Will you sign this?" We're like, "Yes." They're like, "Dude, you are my new favorite band." I was like, "Great, I hope you listen to it before you have me sign your vest or whatever."
It was great. There were a lot of new towns, places that even Obituary and Immolation had never played in 30 years. When their built-in crowds come, these places are packed and the people are really excited. They're really having a good time. It was really nice for us. We shared a backline with Immolation again and changeover was smooth. Like I said, Donald Tardy would strike the drums, and so we could use the drum riser. Everyone had a lot of room and space.
The opening band, Ingrown from Idaho, had to play in front of our kit most of the time, but some of the other shows, everyone struck their kits like a DIY tour. Even though you're playing a 2,000 or 3,000-capacity venue sometimes.
FESTIVALS VS. CLUB SHOWS
Playing at festivals is very different than having your own headlining show at some intimate club where you have more time on your hands to build up a proper set. You've got 45 minutes here at Tuska, did this cause any dilemmas in the Blood Incantation camp as to which songs to choose for the set?
Paul: Actually, it was easy to choose the songs because we just played a version of the same set on the Obituary tour, but we hadn't practiced that set since getting home because we've been working on other material that we were not playing at this show. We got maybe one or two practices in. That's why Crips let us practice in their spot yesterday, which is great because it's fun and they practiced at our practice space about five or six years ago in Denver. It was like the best I have ever heard them sound. They just did their whole set in the basement, in the dark. It was incredible. Ours was not like that, unfortunately. We luckily practiced yesterday so we didn't do today what happened yesterday at practice where I forgot a riff or somebody else forgets a riff or whatever because we hadn't played the songs in over a month.
We got through it. It felt good. It was fucking hot, but the show itself was nice, I thought. I guess we'll have to see what people say.
A good thing about these festivals is that you can reach big crowds and even get some new fans who may have not heard about your band before, right?
Paul: Yes, true. That's why we like to play places like this.
What's your take on festival shows? Do you prefer them more than club gigs?
Paul: I don't prefer them unless they're extremely well organized, like this one and a couple of others, like Hellfest in France, for instance, and maybe Copenhell in Denmark. At a lot of them everyone's flying by the seat of their pants and there's so much to coordinate behind the scenes that it's understandable that things fall through the cracks. I don't take it personally. I don't care. It's fun to play the big stage with a new crowd.
There are some people who just prefer festivals. They don't focus on a particular band or genre. They say, "Every season I go do these couple of festivals or whatever." Those people are never going to find out about your band on tape trading or Instagram or a forum or a used record store. They would never actually look at it. They would never flip the record over in the back and be like, "What is this?"
But at the show, there's a whole different demographic of person that is like, "I'm just here to see all these bands because I like to be at festivals," and we love to play for people like that. Maybe today wasn't ideal, obviously, with the heat and it's kind of scrambling on stage at the last minute or whatever. We have a sound person, Nicos. We have a very accommodating stage crew. Willie is running the ship back there. The best crew ever is an apt title for this company. Whoever he's got working for him, it's like these guys made it amazingly chill for us. Physically scorching but the organizational aspect was very chill. It was great to play. Maybe the stage could face north or south so the sun goes across the sky and not in your face but it's okay.
You released the 5-song ambient EP, Timewave Zero, in February last year. That's a pretty unusual idea for a death metal band to release an EP with ambient sounds and stuff I must say...
Paul: Oh, it's just two songs. They split it up for the streaming. We were asked to do that because in the music royalties world, there are all these archaic policies that have been in place since the '30s and '40s that are kind of fucked up and exploitative, but we all have to deal with it. Every band, big and small, has to deal with these things.
There are these subdivisions of payments like masters and the ownership and the likeness, and the digital royalties, the physical royalties, the mechanical royalties, the songwriting credits, etc. It's really a large spread. If you have a 1 song, 40-minute album, you will be paid less for all of those aforementioned royalties than you would if you had a 10-song 20-minute album, which doesn't make sense, but that's how the business operates. From the top down, from the oldest record labels, the oldest publishing companies, everybody has to deal with this. You know what I mean?
There was never anything really to it until stuff like Spotify and streaming came along. Allegedly, I think Tidal pays people better than Spotify or whoever, I don't know. It's all very marginal. You know what I mean? It's extremely small. They take a very small cut of every single possible thing. [*chuckles*] We were like, "For the streaming, we can split these two 20-minute songs into eight songs, and you get a higher mechanical royalty, despite it being longer with fewer songs." If you add more songs for a shorter playing time, it pays you more, which is completely backwards. We edited it on purpose for Hidden History... because the long song at the end of the B-side, "Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)" is 18 minutes or so. It could have been divided into three pieces, three or four, but they were insistent, and we were like, "No, we are more insistent. This is just part of the concept. It's got to be one long song." Then we saw the numbers and we were like, "Oh, damn it, man."
This time, we made the two longer songs broken up into these little pieces. We don't think of them as eight songs, we think of them as start-and-finish 20-minute tracks on both sides. We played them that way. We recorded them that way. We wrote and rehearsed them that way. That's how we played it at the show. To us, it's just the two songs.
What has the response been from the Blood Incantation fans to that EP?
Paul: It's been great. It has sold like crazy. It is similar to playing a show like this for a lot of new people. There are people out there who don't like our death metal, but they really like Timewave Zero. Those people will say, "I'll wear this shirt. I'll buy this record." There's a huge, HUGE crossover demographic in metal of experimental-minded brutal people, people who enjoy Över or Corrupted or Opeth or Swans and all that stuff, the Beherit ambient albums.
This is totally not avant-garde or new or interesting for anybody to be discussing why it may be controversial or anything like that, it's completely normal for a metal band to make an ambient or experimental record. It's only perceived as a thing on the Internet by these people because we are Blood Incantation. It's very easy to have issues with us because we have this stupid logo, we have the stupid name. We're all bald. We have stupid guitars. We make our merch super over the top. We have these booklets. We make the memes. We make the memes ourselves and then send them to the people who we know will share them, then they post them on Reddit or Facebook or whatever, then someone is like, "Hell, yes, fuck that band. This meme is awesome." It's like, "Dude, I made that meme. I sent it to my buddy because I knew a guy like you would also like it." You know what I mean?
It's very easy to perturb these people who are ultimately a very small portion of the Blood Incantation fan base and an even smaller portion of the overall metal fan base because everybody wants to go listen to acoustic Över albums or ambient Beherit records. All these bands who can do this stuff, it's totally cool. It's because we're B.I. that people have an issue because we're a young band and we have an Internet presence or whatever. No one actually, in a real band, genuinely gives a shit about gold metal, gives a fuck about Timewave Zero, they're like, "This is sick. Good for you." You know what I mean?
Even if they don't like it, they're like, "Fuck, yes." The only people who care are 32 dudes on the Internet. That's about it. Maybe eight of them have a YouTube channel or some Discord private forum membership. I don't know why, but that's what they do with their time rather than making an ambient album or a death metal album because my whole thing it's like, "If you like metal, make some metal. If you think my band is bad, I implore you, please make a better band because that's the only way bands get better."
Bands back in the day and still today, they're inspired not by competition but mutual camaraderie like, "Oh, man, this dude's record or this band's record was fucking awesome. We got to elevate our shit and keep up with this." You don't want to copy what they're doing but they took it up a notch so you're like, "Whoa, dude, we can't just put on a record that sounds like whatever we were doing, we have to amplify our own stuff." That mutual creativity, that mutual respect for friendly competition, not like a competitive sense, but you'd like to see your friends succeed and it inspires you to do your best.
You know who benefits, my friend? Everybody who buys death metal records. Bands that egg each other on in a positive way, like, "Dude, that fucking new logo or that fucking shirt or whatever" makes the scene sicker, it makes the bands qualitatively better despite the unrelenting quantity of bands. There have never been more bands but there have never been more physical death metal fans on planet Earth than there is at this exact moment.
I believe as an insane person with no hair, sitting in this park with this very famous man, Luxi, from the fucking the classic era. Every single person is trying to rip off your art specifically. You got the Sentenced covers, you got the Abhorrence cover, you got the first Incantation cover. These people are stealing your art, they're doing it in a very rudimentary way because it's still the standard, right?
Ha, I don't know about that, but thanks for your very flattering words anyway [*blushing*].
Paul: I'm just using this as a metaphor for what's happening in the death metal scene in the context of your art and how people could be inspired.
When a person is like, "I want to do art. There's the Abhorrence 7-inch, but I can't just do the Abhorrence stuff, I have got to elevate it." That person's artistic integrity becomes stronger. Their skill set is increased and the band that gets to use the art looks sicker because of this person's art and progression. You know what I'm saying?
Yes, I know what you are trying to say.
Paul: That's what's happening with art or should be, in my opinion. That's what should be happening with art, what should be happening with music. Any genre, any style. It doesn't matter. There's no need to just make stuff as it is or as it's been. Back then, none of those bands wanted to sound the same. For instance, Autopsy was Nihilist's favorite band pretty clearly, but they don't sound the same. They want to do their thing. They take the excitement and the energy they feel from these Autopsy riffs, and they put their Nihilist spin on them just as a 30-some-odd-year-old example. It still happens. It happens to us, mostly with older bands, older records. It does happen with new bands, and we just want to push it, including pushing it into stuff that makes someone on the Internet say, "Oh, a death metal band can't put out an ambient record even though a black metal band can or a funeral doom band can. All these guys can but you can't." I'm just like, "That's so crazy for you to suggest because seriously it's just right here, you can buy our ambient record. We're a death metal band with an ambient record. We go on a death metal tour, and we play at Tuska Open Air Festival, and we also play Timewave Zero live to a seated audience who are requested by the flyer to dress formally. Both are sold out. Who's the fool, my friend?" These guys are wasting their time. I've noticed we haven't made it very far down here and I've been rambling for a little while. You caught me right after some--
The thing is that you guys are obviously doing really well because I mean when I was going through your Facebook page today, I realized that...
Paul: Oh God... That's a cesspit.
FALL 2023 NORTH AMERICAN TOUR
... later this year, in September and October, you'll tour together with Cannibal Corpse, The True Mayhem (Norway), and Canada's Gorguts in the States. Do you find this tour interesting because the lineup on this tour is pretty crossover, from Cannibal Corpse's gore death metal to Mayhem's black metal to Gorguts' technical death metal to your unique blend of sci-fi -oozing death metal? Apparently, these shows will also get mixed crowds, which is cool, of course!
Paul: We're playing first. It's great. We've got a short set. But still, it's going to be great. We don't have to do anything. We just have to show up and play for a short amount of time.
That is our second tour with our new booking agent, Nick Storch (The Agency Group), who books a lot of big bands. Carcass, Mercyful Fate, Cannibal Corpse, The True Mayhem obviously, Gorguts, all these bands. A bunch of huge bands. We started working with him a couple of years ago and we had to take it slow because we had a pre-existing schedule, since before COVID, a whole world tour that got canceled and was rebooked and stuff and so then when the rebooking happens, we have to honor our commitments and fulfill those schedules as much as we can in the context of new opportunities and new schedules. We had several tours to do, and we were like, "All right, don't worry about this stuff yet. We got a good tour coming for you just relax," and we met Cannibal Corpse four years ago on the Decibel Magazine tour in the States which was with Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Necrot and B.I. Then Cannibal left and Morbid went up to the headliner and Immolation came in after Necrot.
We met those guys in February 2019, and we met Hellhammer in 2017 on tour with Arcturus in Australia. We were partying with those guys and hanging out at the hotel and having a good time and talking about music, talking about why people do what they do in music or what they think is cool as people do as they drink at festivals. We just talked about metal and as some people in the world know, maybe not posers, but if you talk about legit shit with legit people, they're going to want to talk to you more about it. If you roll up talking about whack shit it sucks in a bad way, people will be like, "Oh, that's not what I was talking about, but you're a nice guy, but that's not what I was talking about." What I assume, I guess, is that they don't have a personal problem with us, whether or not they are down on the music, that's fine. Tours are not always about that. Sometimes it's just a good time for all the bands and it's really ideal but more of a rarity that every band is fucking killer music, killer people. That'd be awesome if every tour was like that, but most tours are just cool people having a good time and sometimes there are great bands, sometimes there are fine bands, sometimes it's not about that. It's about good people having a good time.
Exactly. That's what counts, most of the time at least, I guess...
Paul: I'm sure it's really great for this Mayhem tour in particular because on the day when all the bands were announced, their page had the highest amount of people asking, "What the fuck is the small band's logo? What the hell is that?" Even though many fans don't know us, thousands of Cannibal Corpse fans do because we toured with them and they have a very built-in demographic who show up just to see Cannibal do Cannibal and we had to play first on that tour and people were like, "Whoa, what's this going on? It's kind of creepy or whatever." We switched the set to play, actually, I think we didn't, I think we played against type that day and we played like a super proggy set. I can't remember, but this show was more straightforward. Just brutal songs, one or two atmospheric songs, but not like 20-minute songs with all these progressive parts or whatever because we wanted to compact it for the audience who don't have the time to watch a 40-minute set of weird metal and they just want to be at the brutal festival and see cool, brutal riffs. We got those too, we got both. No reason you can't have both.
All right, I have just one more question for you as my time is pretty much up and I do respect that guy over there sitting on the table next to us as he's the one who brought me backstage to interview you...
Paul: This could go on all night. Sorry, man. You caught me at the worst time. It finally cooled down, I'm super high. I got a beer. I'll do this all day. [*chuckling*]
THIRD ALBUM – WHEN?
It's been four years since your second full-length studio album, The Hidden History of the Human Race, so I have to believe you have already started the songwriting process for the band's next album. Correct me if I am mistaken...?
Paul: You're going to have to ask us next week when we enter the studio and start recording. Now we're in Finland and we're going to Norway in August. What are we doing in Europe between July and August? I guess the world will have to wait and see. We surely must be doing something to occupy the month in between those two times but the world will know at some point. Yes, we're going to be recording. We also recorded earlier this year. They're not related. People think we recorded stuff for the album in April because we posted a picture on Instagram.
How would you say the new stuff compares to the stuff you have done previously?
Paul: I would say typically. We have a linear progression from the demo to the first album. From the first album to the second album. Even from the second album to the ambient album, everything is more. There's more brutality, there's more technicality, there's more melody, there's more catchiness and accessibility, there's more proggy shit. There's more psychedelic shit. Exponential increase of all components each time but this one is like that on 11, like turned up to 11. It makes all of our songs seem very traditional.
I am stoked about what you just said. You make me very excited I can tell you.
Paul: [*chuckles*] Dude, we have never been more excited. We went into total lockdown, absolutely like full-time writing for six months or so. We had ideas and songs and a couple of things we were going to do. I can't get into it now, but it's never been more exciting to go to Blood Incantation practice than in the past six months. Especially the past two or three months. We finally got little individual mixers so everyone can have their own monitor mix. We can record DI into the computer. We have a nice PA and all this stuff now so we can do actual pre-production where we can edit the tempo or we can record overdubs of synths and all this crazy stuff and we have legitimately made something that I've never been more excited for people to be forced to deal with because of this--
Are you hoping to get the new album out next year maybe?
Paul: It would be next year for sure.
Perhaps during the springtime?
Paul: We'll see, I think that's reasonable but not this year. We don't need to rush it, right? We're doing a lot of things differently for this album as far as recording. We're going to Europe, we're trying a new producer, Arthur Rizk, who we've worked with before with all our other bands. It's just going to be a totally new experience where all of us are very free, similar to how we actually wrote the album itself, where, adamantly, no tours, no shows, no trips. We're only doing this. We got back from Australia with Dead Congregation in November and we didn't do anything until that Obituary tour and people were like, "Please do this," and we're like, "We will not."
This is extremely important, this is how we do it and we still went to practice our usual five to six days a week. We still practiced for 8 to 10 hours a day. We were going to work. We didn't play any old songs. We didn't worry about any of that stuff. We didn't start rehearsing the set for the Obituary tour until about 10 or 15 days before the tour and we just played it twice before or in the months since then, we've played it twice and then just now. The muscle memory is still in there, which makes it seem very easy.
If it had been this temperature right now with the clouds and all that stuff, it would've been one of the best shows ever, but I felt like I was going to die today. It was much more traditional material than what we're about to do.
Okay, thanks for the update on your forthcoming material, and of course, thanks, Paul, for sitting down with me and having this nice chat.
Paul: It's my pleasure, Luxi. Dude, an honor to meet you.
|Other information about Blood Incantation on this site|
|Review: Hidden History of the Human Race|
|Review: Interdimensional Extinction|
|Review: Luminescent Bridge|
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