Drawn and Quartered: Q&A on “Congregation Pestilence” and Staying Hungry for Death Metal

Here at Decibel, we’re big fans of the death metal veterans in Drawn and Quartered. Or at least I am, I haven’t surveyed my colleagues, but let’s just go with it. Last month, we premiered “Carnage Atrocity” from their new album, Congregation Pestilence, due out on July 2. We also interviewed them for a quick piece in the latest issue of the magazine. But that article only included a portion of the band’s lengthy, thoughtful answers to our questions, so I figured it would be interesting for you readers to pore over their full comments.

Our chat was with Kelly Shane Kuciemba, the guitarist, and Herb Burke, the bassist and vocalist. The two have formed the core of the band since their days as Plague Bearer back in the early 90s, and have been marching on ever since, delivering mighty salvos of dark, punishing death metal. The interview starts below, after some fanboy action on my part.

First of all, I want you guys to know that I’m a huge fan, and that Hail Infernal Darkness is one of my all-time favorite death metal albums.

Herb: That’s great to hear that Hail Infernal Darkness is a favorite of yours!  I certainly view it as one of our strongest albums, and a favorite too.  Hail Infernal Darkness was basically the culmination of a more-or-less continuous three-year spree of writing and recording – we had just cranked out Extermination Revelry, then Return of the Black Death, so by the time we went into the studio to record Hail, we had really dialed in sounds, performances, production, and were armed with a fistful of fucking classic songs, and held nothing back.

As a band, how was your experience of the pandemic? Did the atmosphere around you inspire the themes on the new album?

Herb: The plague cleared our calendar! Though we only had a couple of scheduled live appearances cancelled, that being off the table for the foreseeable future meant our focus could be solely on creating and recording. And so we recorded Congregation Pestilence almost entirely during the pandemic — Simon completed drum tracks just before most things shut down — and newer material is being created as well, not even taking into account another full-length’s worth of yet-unrecorded material.  We’re really trying to get as much recording done as we can now, so then we can focus our work on live performances once those come back around.

Most of the lyrics on the new album were written, or at least begun, before the plague; the title track is the only one written during the pandemic.  However, most themes present are ones we’ve been using throughout our existence.  For instance, “Proliferation of Disease” lyrics were written about six years ago; back to Return of the Black Death, and even the band’s first name Plague Bearer and the Bubonic Death demo, which featured all-Black Plague lyrics. Still, it ties all the concepts on the new record together well, and it’s pretty ironic to see what we might have thought of as these tales from the past come to life in the present.

Kelly: We were very fortunate to have recorded the drums a week or two before the 2020 Pandemic, in early March. We are were able to keep working to some extent. I have been very fortunate, you could say I have a pandemic-proof life. In fact I have done quite well. I haven’t exactly had an abundance of more time, but not doing any performances allowed me to be very productive as far a creating music and coordinating projects with multiple bands that I’m a part of. Coincidentally, we had the music and have been using the themes of disease and plague for 30 years. Certainly the title track was shaped in some ways by current events. The things that became very apparent during these times, are the things we’ve expressed before and they are quite relevant to the worldwide spread out the viral pandemic of 2020 that we are all still dealing with

As a related question, what are the central themes of the album. Obviously pestilence and death are big ones, but is there something specific about them that you’re reflecting on here?

Herb: I started what became the lyrics for “Congregation Pestilence” after reading about the charlatans packing churches full of infection and the sheep who willingly submit and lie to themselves that they’ll be fine. I tried very hard not to make it into a lyric for this album, thinking it much too obvious — but after a time, I thought more about the parallels between plague and religion (tough, right?) came up with the title, and there it was. And given that two other songs already had plague themes, my original objection no longer made much sense.

Pestilence and death are certainly major themes of the album (and for Drawn And Quartered in general). There is often, though not always, an aspect of the role religion plays in stupefying its victims. Obviously, this is a central theme of the title track, but several other songs on the record touch on this as well, such as “Age of Ignorance,” which kind of speaks for itself.

Kelly: We’ve come full circle on this record. Almost 30 years ago I began this journey, and with the help of many people we have achieved many of the goals we had for ourselves, and there are many more we’d like to achieve. It is a validation of what we set out to do. It started as Plague Bearer and we expressed different sides of what we could do as Drawn and Quartered and Winds of Pestilence.  Ultimately we are reflecting on the incredible ignorance of human beings, and how we disregard facts and science leading to hundreds of thousands dead. When I began studying the horrors of plagues and pandemic, little did I know that in my lifetime there would be a significant outbreak that would lead to massive death. It is also amazing how religion played a part in how people responded and continue to behave and gather regardless of the risk of infection. The lengths people go to minimize the issue and deny the death toll is fascinating. It is interesting to see certain people need to be able to know better than everyone else, when in reality they are cherry picking facts to suit their narrative. This could be said of anyone regarding anything, so I try to keep an open mind. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything here, and no matter what position you have on something, there is going to be someone who disagrees.

You made this album very quickly after the excellent The One Who Lurks, how do you keep your creative momentum going?

Herb: This record came relatively quickly after The One Who Lurks in part because most of it was written and ready. The four songs which are new were written about four years ago, although we had rehearsed them on and off. The other five are re-recordings of songs from Proliferation of Disease, all of which have been performed live (there’s a murderous rendition of its title track on our Live in Japan CD!).

Kelly is someone who always wants to create, so any time we want or need to write new material, he will have something killer.  For my part, I tend to find the most inspiration as the full arrangement comes together.  More generally, we feel like there’s still lots of room to explore (or exploit) our style without altering it from merciless, sinister, DEATH METAL.

Kelly: We feel like it took forever, we had these songs back in 2017. Since we hadn’t finalized the title track until late in the process, it took some time to get the artwork figured out as well. Back in 2017, we had a lot of shows and traveling, so recording wasn’t a priority. I had four songs with our drop-A tuning I thought would be cool as an EP or split record. When we were all finally ready to get them in shape to record, we felt it had been a long enough time to go ahead with recording a full-length. I didn’t want to write more songs since we have a full-length written that will be our next record. I thought we should record our favorite songs from the Proliferation of Disease demo release as well. This was great because we had a real handle on these songs, having played them live over the last five years. It’s not often when you’re making a record that you have such familiarity with the material, making it sound really confident. We revived our band, Plague Bearer, in 2017, and I have worked non-stop on these bands and some other projects to improve playing, composing, recording, engineering, and collaborating. I had to stop writing for Drawn and Quartered because we had a backlog; now we are getting through that. We have a split CD, a split 7” and a full-length album currently in the works. We don’t have quite as much time as we did 20 or 30 years ago, but we have learned how to be more efficient, and we’re always trying different things, even though it might come out sounding more or less the same. I have an unlimited source of inspiration for riffs and musical ideas. Herb is very efficient at working out complimentary bass and vocal ideas. Simon is an expert at putting together song structures. Sometimes I will contribute lyrics, but that is not my primary focus, only when I have a significant idea to present, like the side-B mini-concept of The One Who Lurks. It helps that I’m a recording engineer for our records; we can do most of our work quite comfortably with little fuss or stress. We will be getting to the point of creating music at will, but will anybody want that much Drawn and Quartered? So we will be trying different things and collaborating on some of our projects to keep it interesting. Then we’ll put out a Drawn and Quartered classic. We want to do this until we drop.

As death metal veterans, what keeps you hungry to play the dark and menacing style you guys play so well?

Herb: For me, I basically just want to make music that I would want to listen to. Done right, it still gives me the same chills I felt when Dawn of Possession first kicked my ass, or Altars of Madness blew my mind, or I heard Onward to Golgotha and thought, “What the fuck??” It’s obviously never going to have the newness of almost 30 years ago, but that’s still what is inspiring us.

Also, what else are we going to do?

Kelly: We love the form, following familiar patterns, mixing various elements of the music that inspired us. We like taking the musical bits and pieces and putting them together in a way that ends up being uniquely us. I feel like there is so much room to create this thing that we love, by staying true to the vision. There is a huge list of bands that inspired us and a few very noticeable characteristics we express. Occasionally we will stumble upon something great that really defines our contribution to the genre. We continue to strive to make a great, undeniably classic record. Maybe we made it already. Maybe it is yet to come.  We do it because we love to do it. Like millions of other people, we would be delighted to make art all day instead of the things most of us have to dedicate a significant portion of our time and energy. Having a goal, challenging yourself. Creating these records against all odds, delays, obstacles. Fostering relationships with people and developing skills to facilitate your creative expression with no commercial pressure, allowing the art to exist without hesitation or influence from whatever happens to be popular at the moment. This the greatest reward I could hope for, doing the only thing that has any meaning to me. Many people will not care and will not enjoy or appreciate what we do. We will continue to strive to write a better song, make it sound better, put on a better show, be better prepared, make a better record. It is an honor to have this opportunity. We have worked to put ourselves in a position to make a masterpiece record, like Hail Infernal Darkness. We were writing and recording a lot around that time, including Plague Bearer and Winds of Pestilence projects. We had the machinery in place to make the records; label, studio, artist, line-up. Amidst all that work, we came up with a stand-out record. We have worked very hard to put ourselves in the same situation now, and we will have some amazing records being released.