Plague Bearer: “I Wanted to Escape the Mundane Life I Had and Be Someone Else”

We’ve covered Drawn and Quartered a lot here at Decibel, and for good reason. The band produces some of the darkest death metal around, feeding a special craving that only their pestilential energy can fulfill. But within the shadows lurks another beast, a different species of sinister spectral horror: Plague Bearer. Though both bands feature giant, ominous riffs, Plague Bearer’s overall sound (especially the vocals) have a distinct black metal aspect. This is true of the band’s lyrical themes and imagery as well, going straight for the unholy aesthetic that’s only hinted at with Drawn and Quartered.

For many years (decades, even), the band was both a common point of origin and side-project, releasing some demos and playing the occasional gig. But that’s all changed in 2023 with the release of Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation. The album absolutely devastates everything in its path, and was well worth the wait. I took a moment to talk to Kelly Kuciemba, guitarist for both bands, about it. He gives us a rich history of the band, and the wider scene surrounding it (Dave Grohl makes an appearance, by the way).

So pay attention, readers, there WILL be a quiz at the end!

Congrats on the new album! For readers who may be familiar with Drawn and Quartered but are just learning about Plague Bearer, could you disentangle the history for us a bit?

It’s 1992, I’m in a band we called Septicemia. I put together a demo recording using my now legendary TASCAM 424 Portastudio. We rehearsed a bit after that, but the project dissolved. From there I conceived of my own project, Plague Bearer, put together a song idea and began trying to either form or join a band. The song idea I had was really just an unused drum track from the Septicemia demo I sped up and added different parts to, ultimately creating a song from that with vocals, guitars and bass that I added. That along with the bits I wrote from the Septicemia demo became the basis of Plague Bearer. Some people I talked to or auditioned included future Blood Ritual drummer Scott Sanders and our longtime Drawn and Quartered album cover artist Gabriel T. Byrne.  I eventually found some new band members.  The original line-up was Jeff Smith on bass, Eric Brewer on drums and Shalom Waltenbaugh on vocals. We worked together to create some songs, recorded some rehearsals and a demo, and played a show at the Lake Union Pub with Disbelief and Infester (featuring future Drawn and Quartered drummer Dario Derna) . The Butcher was also there (now the vocals/bass for Plague Bearer), this show was January 31st 1993. We also met Odin, who had already established Moribund Records, at this show. Sadly the line-up dissolved and Shalom had to go away for a while. Not long after, Eric ended up drumming in the Butcher’s band, Butchery! This band also disbanded after the first performance (also at the Lake Union Pub).

Not one to give up (obviously, since here we are 30 years later) I set about writing new music and lyrics, and I was able to convince my former bandmate from Septicemia, drummer Dave Procoppio. Dave was the drummer for Disbelief, which had members Beau Galloway and Ben Owens (later of Blood Ritual). I also convinced members of Butchery (The Butcher and bass player Danny Hodge RIP) to help me with a new demo called Bubonic Death. This recording really forms the basis of all of my bands to this day. We’ve been using some of the same themes and referencing the songs, titles and themes for years (“Return of the Black Death,” “Sickness Redeemer”). One of the song titles was “Winds of Pestilence” (we later did a black/thrash/death metal band from 2004-2008 using that as our name. The recording is featured on our Plague Bearer- Winds of Pestilence compilation CD on KRUCYATOR PRODUCTIONS). This was 1993. This demo was mainly distributed by handmade copies made by myself and was available from Moribund Records (Odin would dub the copies himself). One person who was present during a second recording session to improve the Bubonic Death album was Dave Grohl, who I didn’t recognize until seeing him play with Nirvana the very next day, as I’d gotten a free ticket for the MTV recording that was to be a New Years’ special apparently. Dave wasn’t interested in being our permanent drummer* so I went about finding a drummer and trying to convince the Butcher and Danny to keep doing the band. They did and we met Matt Cason in 1994, eventually changing the name to Drawn and Quartered. Actually, Jeff Smith came back to play bass for a while, later Danny returned and we did a really poorly recorded s/t demo in 1996, before Greg Reeves joined on bass in 1997. The flowing year, Drawn and Quartered recorded the debut To Kill is Human.

Over the next year or so, I still had an idea to do more blackened music. Occasionally, when others didn’t make it to rehearse, the Butcher and I would come up with black metal ideas with him on drums, I even wrote some of these parts down. In 1999, I started practicing these ideas and eventually met up with Defiler (drums) from work, and we started developing on music that became the Defiled by Sodomy. We recorded four songs in 2000, and re-did them and added more for the 2001 demo that wasn’t actually released until the Winds of Pestilence compilation CD. This recording included Drawn and Quartered members the Butcher and Greg Reeves. I left my job and wasn’t able to continue working on that project. In 2004, the drummer from a local band called Funeral Age, Mike, really wanted to jam with me. I took unused ideas from Plague Bearer and we came up with what would become Rise of the Goat that came out as an EP on Nuclear Winter Records around 2006. This EP also featured Greg Reeves on bass and the Butcher on Vocals. In 2018 this was complied with the Bubonic Death demo and released on Vomit Records as Plague Bearer – Rise of the Bubonic Death. In 2017, we had an opportunity to perform at Famine Fest in Seattle. This was our first show since 1994, Drawn and Quartered played the next day at the fest as well. From there, we kept rehearsing a selection of our back catalog, including the Winds of Pestilence material, as it was very similar.

In conclusion, there is no real way to disentangle the bands. And you also have now read an episode in Pacific Northwest metal history.

*(Author’s note: CAN YOU IMAGINE?!)

What made you decide to finally pull together a full-length album? Much of the material is gathered from previous releases, correct?

After performing around Seattle a few shows, we thought about making a record. Writing new material was going to take a while, so we finally decided we would record the songs we had been playing live and could feature our newest member, long-time friend Nihilist (ex-too many bands to mention here-look it up!) on vocals. After a false start, we started again and made a proper album from all the old songs. The new record benefits from a more cohesive sound with a singular tuning and from a couple years of rehearsing and performing. Yes, it is all previously released, but pretty obscure. We did the material justice, I’d say. Since then we have composed a new album and are really excited about working on our next record!

It may seem like a basic question, but it’s worth exploring: Why the fascination with evil? Song titles like “Decapitated Angels” and “Churches Are in Flames” leave little room for ambiguity.

There could be a college course taught on this subject. When I was in in grade school, there was a panic in our country that heavy metal was music contained backwards masked messages. People became concerned with the imagery and themes. There was a band called Venom, they had a song called “In League with Satan.” As a teenager, this was the coolest thing in the world, a statement against the establishment, shocking to many people. Already a fan of horror, this was the most intriguing thing I’d ever seen, and I wouldn’t have known about it if the school hadn’t exposed us to this information in an effort to save us. Evil has always been fascinating, a negative, anti-social and mockery of absurd religious dogma. When I wrote these things I was probably stressed out and frustrated by life, a shitty meaningless job you had to show up for, and fake like you gave a shit every day. I wanted to shock. I wanted to entertain. I wanted to escape the mundane life I had and be someone else. I wanted people to be uncomfortable. I wanted to be part of something. I felt at home and wanted to make a mark in underground music. I liked the dark imagery, the aesthetics of “evil.” I wanted to separate the wheat from the chaff and people to know where I stood in regards to religions. It’s all to mock what I felt was the most divisive, destructive and harmful thing to society and for me at that time: organized religion.

It’s cool that Andrew Lee got involved with mixing and contributed a solo. How did you cross paths with him?

In 2018 I was contacted by Brandon Corsair of the band Draghkar to have Drawn and Quartered perform in Seattle with them. I suggested Plague Bearer instead, and we performed. Not long after Draghkar advertised for a lead guitarist. I joined with them, made a demo and full-length record, and got acquainted with Andrew as he was part of some bands and projects, including Nameless Grave Records with Brandon. While we were getting the Plague Bearer record made, we decided to join forces with Nameless Grave Records and Andrew helped us produce the record and gifted us with an amazing solo. I just listened to the original version of the Rise of the Goat song last night. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but it seems like he paid tribute in a way and did his version of what I did on the original recording.

Do you have any plans to take Plague Bearer on the road this year? Who would you like to play with if you did?

Plague Bearer has only played in Seattle and Tacoma so far, not ever really having an opportunity or actual promotion like we have with this record. I’d like to play with other evil, robed, hooded-type bands for a fun themed tour or show. I’m doing four bands right now, but I will want to do shows or tours when there is enough interest in fans to see it.

Ok, you got all that? Good. So, what year did they make the Bubonic Death demo???