Since its release a month ago today, Spesimin’s demo Born in the Crypt has remained in heavy rotation here at Demo:listen HQ. Brimming with equal parts grime and adrenaline and reeking with the heady stench of timeless death-done-right, Born in the Crypt is one of those demos. One of those demos that’s so good you can’t believe it’s a new band’s first recording. Even now, listening to it for the 30th or 40th time, this demo continues to impress us. Of course, we had to reach out and see what this Philadelphia-based filthy death-peddling trio are all about.
According to Ian, Spesimin’s vocalist-cum-drummer, he and Alejandro, the band’s guitarist “had worked together for years before bonding over [their] love of Death and Sepultura.” Ian continues to explain how Alejandro sent him some death metal-style riffs. Ian says, “I loved them. He’s a way more technical player than me so when we got together to jam on them he had to dumb them down a little bit so I could play along, and that’s basically how these songs came to be. Me and Jeff [Spesimin’s bassist] have a punk band called Socialite that’s not too active, and we have really similar tastes in punk and metal so he was a perfect fit.” Ian adds that Spesimin came together because “we all love evil riffs and playing fast.”
Once they had formed a band, they needed to name it. Ian says, “I wanted a band name that was gross, and when writing lyrics and drawing I was thinking about brains, brains in jars, dead organisms coming back to life, coming up with names about lab equipment and stuff. My partner suggested Specimen as a name and I liked it cuz it was simple and not over the top. I wanted to spell it differently to put a spin on it and give it new associations for myself. By bastardizing the word it’s like the idea behind the name is given new unholy powers. And just to make it slimier and more disgusting. When I found out there’s an extremely famous goth band called Specimen that sealed the deal just to differentiate it. I drew the logo, which I came up with just by messing with webs and slime.”
According to Ian, the writing process for Born in the Crypt went like this: “Alejandro wrote all the riffs. We arranged them all together by jamming on them and keeping the structures simple, and tweaked them over the course of a few months. It was pretty organic. We finished writing the songs before writing any vocals because we kept saying we’d get a singer eventually or that we’d split up the vocals. Instrumentally I think ‘Violent Sanctification’ was the first one, and ‘Sycophant Slaughter’ was the most recent. We tracked them when we knew they were the way we wanted them, and didn’t write the vocals until then.”
Born in the Crypt
Because they always wanted a vocalist to join at some point, Ian says “me doing drums and vocals wasn’t always the plan.” He continues: “Our friend Boots was gonna be the singer but they moved to NY. By that point I already had lots of vocal ideas I’d come up with and didn’t wanna start from scratch with someone new. Out of the three of us I had the easiest time singing while playing, so it was kind of out of necessity and a sense of ‘why not?’ Part of me thinks that a singing drummer is corny if it’s not pulled off super well, so I’m still a little on the fence about it, but after finally seeing Tomb Mold live I was like, ‘OK, my drum parts are fucking easy compared to theirs, I gotta be able to do this.’ When writing I had to simplify some vocal ideas that I wanted to do but just couldn’t pull off while playing, and had to find just the right spot for the mic stand since I have terrible posture while playing. But if I were to discover a sick drummer who is looking for a band…”
Ian goes on to give us the scoop on how Spesimin went about recording their killer demo. “We recorded with our friend Zach Bailey who has made some great sounding records in the last year or so (The Ire, The P’ids, Penetrode),” Ian says. “Our practice spaces are in the same building and we recorded in his. We recorded drums and guitars in a day and went back to do bass and vocals a few months later once I finished writing them. He was super chill to work with, got great tones and made it sound awesome.
“Arthur Rizk mastered [our demo] and definitely brought out the best in the tracks, continues Ian. “I first met him when he recorded my powerpop band The Smarthearts and it’s always a blast working with him. The best in the biz!”
Ian says Born in the Crypt was inspired by a “heavy diet of classic thrash and death metal.” He gets specific:” Sepultura, Slayer, Razor, Sodom, Metallica, Death, Carcass, Bolt Thrower. When we wrote ‘Born in the Crypt’ we were psyched that the chorus sounded like Slayer, and Honge’s solos remind me of Kirk Hammet’s style. One thing about our songwriting is that Alejandro loves the later half of the Death discography and I prefer the first few albums, so there’s melodic stuff happening but it’s like that’s only been able to go so far because of my stubbornness to keep things really simple.
“General horror fandom inspired lyrical imagery like congealing streams of blood and a baby ripping out of its mother’s dead body,” Ian explains. “But I also love brutal music that’s [more] about real shit and societal ills than fantastical kinds of made up horror. I’m trying to use horror imagery to serve as metaphors about real stuff going on in the world . . . I had just read Frankenstein when I wrote ‘Spesimin,’ so I was thinking of that monster as a ‘Spesimin,’ like an evil undead creature. Other songs’ themes aren’t necessarily inspired by specific art, but some ideas subconsciously came from specific sources from other bands that were deep in my mind (‘Mentally Murdered’ by Napalm Death, ‘Violent Pacification’ by DRI).”
Looking back, with the finished product in hand, Ian says, “I think we were aiming at a Show No Mercy-esque evil thrash style. We toyed with different vocal styles but the direction we ended up going is more of a death metal flavor. The feel of the songs is also more punk than perhaps intended cuz of the simple structures and super Neanderthal drums. I haven’t sang much before this, other than a band that played one show and doing Metallica karaoke, so I basically go back and forth between trying to sing like Chuck or Max or Angelripper, feeling out what feels best, so the vocals are a bit of a stylistic grab bag.”
Looking and moving forward: “We’ll be writing with Jeff in the mix from the beginning this time and he brings great ideas to the table,” Ian says. “In theory we’ll start working on riffs and vocals at the same time if it seems like that helps us come up with cool ideas. I’m gonna keep working on getting my double kick up to snuff and expanding my growling range. We have one new song as of now and if that’s an indication I think the song structures become a little more sprawling.
“The pandemic has put the pause button on us like everyone else,” continues Ian. “We had our first gig scheduled for late May, which would have been our release show, but the silver lining is we’ll have a stockpile of new riffs and I’ve been wrestling with my double kick more than usual. And I’ve had lots of time to draw, so the tape art is a little more elaborate than it would have been otherwise.”
Once they’re able to, Ian says, Spesimin plans to “play gigs and make another record, hopefully heavier than the last. If the pandemic keeps gigs from happening for a long time we MIGHT look for a dedicated drummer who can really rip, which would let me go a lil more wild and just sing.”