KILL SCREEN 040: Steve Buhl of 200 STAB WOUNDS Only Plays to Win

Photo by Bailey Olinger

“Full transparency: I don’t game anymore, I don’t do any of that shit.” That was at the top of our discussion with 200 Stab Wounds guitarist and vocalist Steve Buhl during our interview for Decibel’s, uh, video game column. The Cleveland-born quartet has been on a tear these last three years after making the risky decision to release their first album, Slave to the Scalpel, during pandemic-era lockdown when live music was still out of reach. Once the doors began opening to in-person shows again, the Ohio death squad blew them off the hinges, lining up tours with Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, Gatecreeper, Frozen Soul, Undeath and even our very our Decibel Magazine Tour in 2023 with Dark Funeral, Cattle Decapitation and Blackbraid. They’ve taken every opportunity possible to stay on the road, get their name out there and promote their new, razor-sharp LP (and Metal Blade full-length debut) Manual Manic Procedures. Somewhere along the way, Buhl took a wrong turn and ended up under the neon lights of the Kill Screen arcade.

So, why are we here? Rather than exhaling a defeated sigh and a meek “gg go next,” the co-nerds decided to enjoy the time that we had already allotted and focus on one word in that initial statement: “anymore.” If Buhl spent any stretch holding a controller, it was worth a few questions to find out not only what caught his interest before, but what lead to him giving it up. Though Buhl won’t be ripping through the Elden Ring DLC anytime soon, it’s not quite game over for the six-string slayer. The difficulty setting on this conversation may have increased and our vetting process most certainly will change, but what follows is far from an ultra nightmare and we won’t be considering this an L.

What was your very first gaming experience?
I gotta say Halo. I used to play Halo all the time. I used to have a… Actually, I lied to you just now. My first console, thinking back—way back when I was a child—I had a Nintendo 64. I can’t remember what the name of the game was called. But that whatever that game was for Nintendo 64, that was my first, like, real gaming experience. But then after that, I got Xbox and Halo and all that shit. My first time I ever played video games, I had to be five or six or something like that.

When was the last time that you were interested in video games?
Probably during the pandemic. I got really into [NBA]2K and playing Madden and shit like that. I would have my buddies over and we would just get wasted and just play 2K all fucking night. Since then, especially with us touring all the time and stuff, I kind of just got out of it. I still have a console. I have my PS4 in the living room, but I just don’t really care about it.

You’ve been on the road for basically three years at this point. I can’t imagine that you have the time to sit down on your couch, let alone play a video game on your PS4.
I mean, I got time when I’m home. I just don’t really care about it as much as maybe other people do, but it’s fine. Every once in a while, if I go to a buddy’s house, we’ll do some shit or whatever. But I’m also not that good at them, so I just get mad. I just stop, I just don’t do it. [Laughs]

We’ve run into this quite a bit where people are really self-conscious about their ability, where they’re like, “Oh man, it’s fine, but I’m not good at them.” Do you feel like that helped you lose interest in it? Like, you just felt like you couldn’t compete at the same level as your friends?
I guess kind of, but when I was a kid, I would mainly just play by myself. I would do story mode and shit and try to get all the levels and all that shit. But yeah, definitely, I would play some of my friends in 2K and they would just whoop my ass and that would piss me off, [laughs] so I’d have to get out of it. But no, that’s not really the main reason I stopped. It’s just I never really cared about it that much and it’s not really a huge passionate thing. My brothers are super into gaming like that, but I just never really got into it that deep. I took a whole different direction in life, I suppose.

Why NBA2K in particular?
It’s not my first choice because I’m more of a football fan. Our bass player Ezra [Cook], he’s super into [NBA2K], so I would just start playing with him and then, Well, that’s kind of fun. So I just got into it a little bit and I got okay to where I knew the controls and knew all the the moves and all that shit. But I’m more of a football guy—none of my friends are, though. All my friends like basketball. They would come over, trying to play 2K and, “OK, let’s play for a little bit,” and then I’d get pissed off. I’m like, “Well, fuck this. Let’s play Madden,” and none of them wanted to do it because they knew I was gonna whoop their ass. So I’m just like, I’m done with this shit. I’m just gonna focus on other shit.

We talked about Halo on Xbox and then you went to PS4. Was there much gaming in between there or was it just sporadic, whatever was around?
Well, I only got my PS4 so I could have Netflix and shit. [Laughs] That’s actually funny because that’s why I got into the whole fucking 2K/Madden shit. I obviously used to play that shit as a kid with my dad and all that stuff. But really I bought my PS4 just for Netflix and stuff like that. But then all my friends would come over and they’re like, “Dude, you got Madden on this shit?” and all that, and I’m like, “No, dude. All right, well, I’ll download it and we’ll run it real quick.” That’s kind of how all that started. That really shows that I’m really not a video game dude at all. But I got into it a little bit and I would download other stuff. I did fucking Minecraft for a second. It pissed me off and I stopped immediately. I did stuff like that for a minute, but then I just got completely out of it once we started touring and stuff.

I went from N64 to Xbox to PlayStation. And it was the first Xbox, so that’s how big of a gap that is—from N64 to PlayStation [4]. Those are the only three consoles I’ve ever owned in my whole entire life. That gives you kind of an idea of how far of a gap that is and how I’m just not a video gamer at all. My brothers, like I said, they want the newest console and all that shit all the time. They want to get the fucking gaming PCs that light up like a UFO and all that shit. I don’t understand any of it. So that just kind of shows you the gap in time of my video gaming experience.

When you were playing games, was it mostly because there’s a handful of people all sat around on a couch or in a room and we’re all going to sit down and play one game together?
Yeah. That’s why we did those sports games, because it’s more involved and you can have pretty much as many players as you want. And it’s something we all understand, too. Especially me, because I was like, “Dude, I’m not gonna fucking sit here and play Call of Duty with you, because you’re just gonna kill me every five seconds.” I suck at them, so at least let me play something that I kind of understand. That’s kind of why we chose those games. I’ll have three or four people over and we can all hop on teams and just go from there.

It was just friends coming over at the time. They’re all into video games and shit, too, so they would just kind of hound me, like, “Why do you have this if you’re not playing video games, bro?” I’m like, “All right, well, fucking show me how to download.” Because I haven’t played a video game or bought a video game since you had to literally physically go into the store and buy the actual game. I told him, “I don’t even have any of these games.” “No, you can download it on your fucking console, like, right here in your house.” I’m like, “What the fuck?” That was all new to me, I didn’t know any of that shit. That was cool for me to know. If I ever want to, if I just get an itch to play something or see something, I can just fucking buy it at my house and I don’t have to go anywhere. Especially living in Atlanta, because the traffic’s so fucked up. I can just buy it and fucking play it right there.

“It was just friends coming over at the time. They’re all into video games and shit, too, so they would just kind of hound me, like, ‘Why do you have this if you’re not playing video games, bro?’… I told him, ‘I don’t even have any of these games.’ ‘No, you can download it on your fucking console, like, right here in your house.’ I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ That was all new to me, I didn’t know any of that shit.”

Has there ever been any gaming on the road, something casual, where you get a round of Madden in or whatever?
There was only one time that I can think of—that I was involved, at least. We were on tour with Undeath, and I can’t remember where we were exactly, but in the green room, there was a gaming console and we just played Madden all day up until it started. But that was really the only time. We toured with the Frozen Soul dudes and they do the whole Magic: [The Gathering] shit. I don’t even know anything about that, never even heard of it until we toured with them. That was really the only time—with the Undeath dudes—and I got my ass whooped in that by them, so I just got pissed and left. But it’s cool though. We played a venue one time—I want to say in Canada somewhere, that we just recently played and we played there twice—there’s a big pinball room in the bar area. I’ll do shit like that, but video games, count me out, because 99 percent of the time, everyone else is better than me at it. So… I’m good. “You wanna hop in?” No, I’m okay. I’m good.

You’ve actually toured with a lot of people that we’ve already spoken to for this column, like Dying Fetus, Frozen Soul, Full of Hell, Undeath, Enforced and Creeping Death. Has any of that nerdery rubbed off on you? You said that you didn’t hear about Magic until you toured with Frozen Soul. Was there ever any interest in exploring that?
No, not really. I’ve always been the type of person [that] whatever I’m into, I’m balls deep into that and I just focus on that. I’ll ask questions or whatever. Another band that plays that Magic shit is Tribal Gaze. And Vomit Forth plays that shit, too, now that I’m thinking about it. They were playing that shit in Europe. I’ll walk up and I’ll be like, “What is this shit? What does that even mean?” Because they’re making moves and throwing cards and flipping cards and I don’t even know what it means, so I’ll ask questions. But no, it never ever really rubbed off on me to where I’m like, “I’m gonna go buy a kit and I’m gonna play this in my house.” It’s just not for me. I respect it because I know it takes a lot of patience to learn stuff like that. If we’re playing card games, I’m more into going to the casino and gambling. That’s what I’ll do. But nothing really like that, though, because I’m not gonna win any money or anything. What’s the point unless you’re big on it?

Have you gotten much gambling in on tour?
It kind of sucks because within the last year, I just learned how to play roulette and blackjack. I mean, I’m talking within, like, the last week I learned how to play blackjack. We did that Psycho Las Vegas festival and I think it might have been the first one that was at that new casino, that huge casino they built. At the time I didn’t know shit about any of that stuff. I would just go play the machines that I put a 20 in and press the button until I lose.

Thinking back on it now, if I knew how to play any of those table games—I’m pretty okay at those—I probably would have crushed at it then. On the Fetus tour actually, we played right outside of Chicago and we stayed at this hotel that was also a casino. We went there for a little bit, but usually we just don’t have time to really do anything, though, especially casinos. It’s very few and far between and even in some states it’s illegal to do that. Where I live in Georgia, there’s not even any casinos around me here. So, not too much, but there’s been a couple times we stopped by casinos and we’ll fuck around for a little bit and then leave.

You’ve mentioned in a previous interview that lyrics are always the hardest part when it comes to the music. You also mentioned that it isn’t really influenced by any particular story. Going forward, do you see something like video games being something that you could pull from? Even as somebody who’s not interested in the medium anymore, do you see that as something that could be an influence for future music?
For us particularly, probably not. I know [guitarist] Ray [Macdonald] plays, but I think Ray just plays Call of Duty. I mean, maybe? Maybe Ray comes to us with some lyrics about war or something and he was inspired by the game, I guess in that aspect. But I don’t think anyone in our band plays, like, fantasy video games or any shit like that. For us, I don’t see it happening. But it could. I mean, I’ll never say never.

Typically when it comes to soundtracks for video games, you associate [it with] chiptune music, very electronic, poppy, up-beat kind of stuff. But more recently, because there’s no limitations to audio, you’re starting to get the whole breadth of what music can offer. You’re even seeing death metal bands and extreme metal bands who are contributing to soundtracks. Thou contributed to that game Norco. Fulci just announced that they’re contributing music to a video game.
What video game are they doing?

It’s called Cyberflesh. It’s a video game and comic thing.
Oh, sick. Yeah, and I know Tomb Mold did that Cyberpunk [2077] a few years ago, right?

Perfect example. We’re starting to see extreme metal getting more accurate representation when it comes to video games, not the guy wearing corpse paint and a bullet belt being the comic relief. Would you ever want to contribute to a score for something like that? If you were asked to contribute music to a video game, would you approach that any differently than you would with 200 Stab Wounds?
I guess the whole purpose of that would be to get more exposure to our band. I don’t really know how that shit works. I don’t know if there would be a bunch of guidelines we have to follow or a bunch of rules and shit. If we were approached by somebody and they were just like, “Do whatever you want, do what you do. That’s why we approached you in the first place, because we like your band and we think it’d be good,” yeah, we’d go balls to the wall death metal for that type of thing.

There is something that is happening or was supposed to happen. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with that dude Meat Canyon on YouTube. He does these weird, very disturbing parodies of children’s cartoons and shit. We kind of became friends a couple years ago and he wanted us to do something for one of his videos. I was like, “OK, well, when do you want us to do that?” And he was like, “I’ll keep you in the loop.” Haven’t heard anything yet, but we were supposed to do that.

We’ve never been approached by a video game or anything like that, but if we were, we would 100 percent do it. Even if there were rules and guidelines and shit, as long as we could be heavy. Even if they’re like, “We need a 30-second thing for the opening screen to the video game,” or something like that, we’d do it regardless just to have our name associated with something like that. But if it were just, “Do what you want, free range to do whatever you want to do,” yeah, we’re going balls out for that type of thing.

I know that any promotion is good promotion, but is that something that would be desirable for you? Would you want to seek out that kind of video game tie-in?
Yeah, for sure. It’s fucking sick, our band being on a video game. Honestly, that’s kind of—and I haven’t even thought about this in a while or even talked about any of the interviews—but that’s kind of why we started doing a lot of the synth things that we do. When we started writing that type of stuff on our records—and even on this new one there’s still synth stuff—but a lot of the acoustic stuff, me personally, I’m like, we gotta think about it like if someone reaches out like, Hey, we want to use this for our TV show or our movie or something like that. It’s not written specifically for that, but we wrote those particular parts kind of with that in mind. We’re open to that type of thing, you know, and obviously it fits our music and the shit’s good. We’re like, “Shit, this could be in a fucking horror movie or this could be in any type of thing like that. This is pretty sick. All right, cool.” If that ever happens, we’re down for it.

You’re a death metal band first and foremost, but was working with that synth element an interesting new dimension to how you approached your music?
With this one yeah, because the synth stuff that we did on this record was more incorporated. It’s only on one track that I can remember right now, and with that one it’s more involved with us playing over the synth. That was definitely new, but on Slave to the Scalpel, it was more just an interlude type thing, so it didn’t really go with the music at all. It was just more something that we wrote and recorded and then put it in between. With this one, it was definitely a new approach but even the stuff we did on this record, it could go into a video game or a movie or something. Or even the intro track—the whole acoustic thing on “Hands of Eternity,” that could go in a movie or video game or some shit. All that shit that we did on this record was definitely new to us as far as the melodic part. Incorporating synth stuff with the band playing, it was cool. We liked the way it turned out.

Has there ever been anything that you’ve seen that you can recall that looked interesting, but you were just too intimidated to pick up? Or [were you] just really hard checked out?
These days, I’m really hard checked out… I mean, not really hard checked out because I’ll do it. I’m open to anything. I just don’t go into video game stores or anything like that and my whole algorithm as far as my internet shit goes, it’s not video game at all. I don’t get YouTube ads where it’s about this video game or that video game. The last one I can remember—because I used to be obsessed with Star Wars as a kid—the last time I remember being like, Yeah, I gotta fuck with this shit, was Lego Star Wars. That was the last time when I saw something and I was, like, fucking begging my parents to buy it for me because I’m a child, I don’t have any money. That was really the last time.

If I were to go into into a video game store, I’m sure there’s a whole shit ton of stuff out right now that I would look at and be like, That looks fucking dope. Let me play that. Even the Cyberpunk thing that Tomb Mold was a part of, I was like, What the fuck? They’re on a video game? So, I did a little research on that and that game looked pretty cool. But really the only game that I can say right now that I want to come out—and I actually can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet—is the new [Grand Theft Auto]. That’s the only game I’m like, When that comes out, I’ve gotta fuck it up. That’s been, I don’t even know how long, forever since the last one came out I really enjoy that game because you don’t have to do shit. You just fuck shit up, steal cars and go to strip clubs and stuff like that. That’s the only one I’m anticipating.

What is it about GTA compared to other open world single player games that’s more appealing to you? Is it the fact that it’s grounded in current day reality? Is it any of the core mechanics? What is it about that particular game?
Compared to other video games, you have these goals you have to follow and I don’t know how to do any of this. I don’t know about anything about direction in video games. I know they have that in GTA, too—I know there’s story mode and all that stuff. But I don’t do that. I just play the fucking “Let’s go fuck shit up” mode and steal cars and rob people and all that. That’s really what I enjoy about it. Really, it’s just the entertainment aspect of it. I know a lot of other video games have that, too, where you can just go and do whatever, but if I’m playing a video game where there’s a specific storyline, there’s a specific goal to reach—especially with Halo because of how space-y it is and how crazy it is, how mind-bending that it is—a game like that, I would have to go into the story mode and I would usually just end up getting pissed off and never finish the game anyway.

With GTA, I guess what you’re saying is kind of right. It’s just more [based in reality], where it’s just people fucking shit up. That’s a lot of stuff that really happens in real life—people stealing cars and people fucking buying guns and then killing people with them and shit like that. I like that aspect of it, so that’s pretty much the only game that I can truly say that I’m looking forward to, that I know that the day it comes out I’m fucking buying it and I’m playing it. Maybe I’ll hit the story mode. Maybe, maybe not.

It’s kind of interesting though, because you had mentioned Halo specifically and then Lego Star Wars, which obviously are pretty far removed from reality, but then GTA and modern sports games. Is there any particular reason that you switched tone or theme, or is it just as life has gone on it was easier to grab those?
I just think it’s the way I’ve evolved as a person, really. I used to be into all that type of stuff as a kid, video games and all that stuff. But no, there’s not really any particular reason why I got away from that stuff—I just don’t do it. I’m sure that if I dug up some of that old shit that I used to play, it would probably spark a little bit of new interest, just because I would like have that childhood memory unlocked and then I’m all back into it. But yeah, there’s not really anything in particular.

It even goes into movies, too, the movies I watch. I like stuff that’s more based off reality more than fantasy nowadays at least. I used to love the fantasy movies, that it’s like, There’s no way this is gonna happen in real life. It’s just entertaining. But now, especially when I’m watching horror movies and stuff like that, I haven’t really watched a B-rate, gore, monster movie in forever. I used to love that shit, but now I just like watching movies that are about fucking houses that are haunted and demon possessions and shit like that, even though that’s kind of questionable, like, Does that really happen or does that not happen? I don’t know. But it’s more based on reality and “true stories” and stuff like that. I’m just more into that all across the board as far as entertainment goes. Movies and video games, they all kind of coincide for me.

If you picked up a newer Star Wars title, would you feel that same sense of nostalgia or would it specifically have to be something like Lego Star Wars?
No, I could definitely pick up a Star Wars game now and it would probably bring me back to all that shit I did as a kid. It would make me want to go back and get those games in particular. I don’t know how any of the shit works, but I would assume that to go back and play some of those original games that I was playing, you’d have to get some sort of simulator or something like that.

You said that when you play, you get frustrated you get angry. What triggers that anger? This just turned into a therapy session.
I know, you’re about to make me cry. [Laughs]

What is the frustrating aspect for you? What causes this anger?
I hate to lose. It goes into everything in life. I fucking get so mad. Not to stray away from the the shit we’re talking about now, but I get so fucking pissed when we have a bad show. I’ll just shut down, I won’t talk to anybody. Even though it might have been me. It might not have been anyone else in the band that fucked something up. I consider that a loss: Fuck, we just fucked up the whole entire show. Now when we come back to the city the venue is going to be empty because everyone said, “Oh, that band fucking sucks We’re never coming back to see him again.” So it goes in everything else—video games or even a football team I like. If they lose, I’m fucking pissed.

Would that apply even if you were playing a single-player game, where if you die in a level, you can just restart and do it again?
No, I don’t get as pissed at that because I know it’s a computer that I’m playing against or something like that. I think about it, It’s rigged, fuck it, and I have an excuse in my mind. But if I’m playing against my friend, I’m like, Oh fuck! This dude, he just beat my ass. Now I’m pissed. I just lost. So, no, not really. If I’m playing a single-player type deal, I couldn’t imagine myself getting all that mad, but I’d probably still be a little bit pissed off, a little butt-hurt about it, but I’d probably get over it easier than my friend beating me. [Laughs]

And to go back to the show thing—and not to talk shit on any bands that have opened for us before—but I get pissed, too, when an opener band plays better than us on a particular night. I’m like, Damn, we just lost to the opener. I get it, we have bad nights and shit. But dude, sometimes we play, the openers are just fucking sick. We did a headline show in Milwaukee and this band called Gored Embrace opened for us. Dude, it was devastation. They were so fucking good. I was kind of mad about it. I dapped them up, like, “You guys are fucking sick,” but I was kind of mad about it. I’m like, Fuck!

This feels like the opposite of shit-talking a band. “I don’t want to speak ill of anybody, but these fucking bands who are playing better than us: How dare they?” [Laughs]
I went and saw that band Stabbing. They’re opening on our headliner tour and I always knew they were sick because I’ve seen them a couple times. But I went and saw them in Atlanta a couple weeks ago. Like I said, they’re opening our headline tour and dude, I watched them play and I told my girlfriend, I was like, “Dude, I don’t know if we can have this band on the fucking tour anymore because it’s just devastation. How the fuck are we gonna follow?” And they’re the opening band! They’re the first on the fucking bill, so we shouldn’t be the only ones worried. All these other bands should be worried, too. I kind of want to get a hold of them and be like, “Listen, you just gotta prepare. We’re probably all gonna get shit on.”

I [James] saw them at MDF. They were great!
In the venue I saw them at, it’s really fucking small, but I’m always a big advocate for smaller venues, more intimate whatever because you just get more of a feel from a band that way. But yeah, the venue I saw them at, it’s just this tiny little fucking hole in the wall bar and they just fucking crushed it. I was like, Holy fuck, dude. And we chose the bands! So I’m like, Fuck, dude. We fucked up. They’re just so good and they’re locked in there. They’re so tight. It’s not even just their songwriting. So we gotta step it up a little bit for this next one.

Manual Manic Procedures is out June 28 via Metal Blade Records and can be pre-ordered here.
Tickets to see 200 Stab Wounds on tour can be purchased here.
Follow 200 Stab Wounds on Bandcamp, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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