Interview: Portland death rockers DEATHCHARGE on ‘Midnight Road’

pic: Dennis Dread / Wyrd War

It’s been over a decade since Deathcharge released their last album. But then again, the Portland, OR-based death rockers took 14 years to release their first full-length after forming in 1997 as a Discharge-inspired punk band. In that sense, you could say their third and latest LP, Midnight Road, came on the fast track.

“Deathcharge has always presented a negative view of the world, regardless of what the sound is for that time period,” bassist Frank—yeah, just Frank—says. “There definitely isn’t anything being expressed that would offer any hope. The Discharge world view of ‘Sounds of distant aircraft get louder and louder’ has shifted to something closer to a slow, endless decay, but it is still there.  Musically, it’s all very organic and nothing is discussed as intentionally going one way or another.”

But 2024 is a long way from 1997 and Midnight Road is a long way from Discharge. Invoking the steady pulse and danceable darkness of Sisters of Mercy, it’s easily one of the best death rock albums of the last decade. And it comes to us via Wyrd War, the underground label founded by Dennis Dread, the Portland artist responsible for creating some of your favorite Darkthrone, Autopsy and Abscess album covers.

“This record may not have happened without the support of Wyrd War, and I’m not sure we would have wanted it released on any other label,” Frank says. “We would much rather be on the fringes and surrounded by the eclectic and occult that Wyrd War is involved in than safe inside any scene.”

Below, an interview with Frank and Deathcharge vocalist Adam Nauseum.

Why did you decide to call the album Midnight Road? Theoretically, you could’ve named the album after any of the songs—or none of them.
Adam Nauseum: Midnight Road is the one song on the record that captures the idea of what Deathcharge is. It could be our anthem perhaps. We’re outsiders on a trip, mentally and physically, into hostile territory. It’s about us knowing we’re going somewhere we don’t want to go and knowing we ain’t coming back.  On the [album cover], the road leaves a smoldering city behind and leads into nothing. Or the other way around.

How would you characterize the lyrical themes of the album? Are the songs related to each other in any way?
Adam: There’s a cohesive theme, but it’s without intent. Every song is a stiff middle finger, unapologetic about the way we live.  And far from being flowery poetic stuff. We know wherever we are, whatever we do, we’re the outlanders, held captive by a Children of The Corn type society. We’re mourning the young lovers who are dying in a nuclear wasteland. Then there’s horror flicks, drugs and bad vibes all around.

Frank: The character of the Hangman from our third EP reappears in the song “Midnight Road” and works as an allegory for themes on this record, and for Deathcharge in general: An ever-present grim reaper figure you’re never able to shake, but what choice do you have but to keep moving?

The last Deathcharge album, Bad Dream Forever, came out in 2013. Why the long period between releases?
Frank: The first EP was recorded in 1997 but took a while to get the money together to release it.  The next record was 2001 and seemed to set a precedent for times of inactivity, and it was ten years before releasing our first LP, Love Was Born to an Early Death, which contained some tracks written by members no longer in the band, and some songs dating back to 1999. Somehow, we managed to put together Bad Dream Forever within two years, but after that, who knows what took so long?  We had around 15 unrecorded songs of new material between the last LP and this one.

Deathcharge has been around for nearly 30 years. In what ways do you feel the band has changed during that time—musically, attitude-wise, approach, etc.
Adam: In early days we had an agreed-on song structure, limiting ourselves to mimicking ’80s U.K. punk.  But it was never intended that we would stay in the same place musically. We’ve wanted every release to show a marked evolution, and I think we’ve done that. We have never given a fuck how we are perceived, so it gives us freedom to explore any territory.

Attitude-wise, we admire Glenn Frey and try to live by his “No Fun Allowed” policy. Wallowing in our disgust 24/7 is hard work, so we’re trying to be a bit more flexible now. We used to hate absolutely everything, and now we only hate most of it. Or maybe I should just say we’ve had a massive disinterest in most of the music world.

What are your top five death rock albums, and why?
Lords of the New Church, s/t LP – A great piece darkness that is both an ascent and descent from the members previous punk bands.
Discharge,  Grave New World – An absolutely grim record lyrically, and a psychic focal point of shifting tides.
Fields of the Nephilim, Dawnrazor – Perfectly mixes gothic rock with cinematic grandeur and esoteric mysticism.
Sisters of Mercy, “Body and Soul” 12-inch – The Sisters are the wellspring from which so much of this genre flows. Whether they like it or not. This 4-song EP is the essence of the dark, driving coldness that the Sisters represent.
Celtic Frost, Into the Pandemonium – Darkness turned inward and the most misery-laden Celtic Frost record.  Sisters and Christian Death influence abound.

What’s next for Deathcharge?
Frank: We will be returning to the studio to delve into our increasing catalog of unreleased material, with new recordings in the near future.  Many eclectic shows on the horizon with the likes of Antisect and Nox Novacula.