The War Inside My Head: An Interview with Succumb
The War Inside My Head series is supposed to be, basically, fun. Fun for bands participating, since it focuses on the music they like as opposed to their own, and fun, for me, since it provides an opportunity to highlight some of the absolute best in the contemporary extreme metal scene. The fun is quadrupled this time around since the band in question is not only one of the absolute best – the Bay Area's own hybrid monstrosity Succumb – but because there's just so much fun and interesting music being mentioned. So, a win-win to all. And in the off chance you may not have heard of Succumb til now, here goes: combining black metal, thrash and death, and a whole busload of hardcore and punk, Succumb are one of those rare, rare acts that manage to both pay homage to about nine different sub-genres of music all while sound like themselves alone. Riffs supported by maniacal drumming, enhanced by menacing Morbid Angel-esque atmospheres and undercut by a loose, free-wheeling and pissed hardcore current. Could one ask for more?
So it gives me great pleasure to usher Succumb into the TWIMH fold ahead of their very anticipated sophomore album XXI, due next month via the splendid (yup, I said "splendid") The Flenser. Read ahead for a lovely interview with Kirk Spaseff (bass), Harry Cantwell (drums, and also the man responsible for the storm of passion and precision known as the drumming in Bosse-de-Nage), and Derek Webster (guitar).
Before we get the interview this is just to say that you can check out our other interview series (Albums of the Decade, Pillars of the 90s) and, you haven't already, please follow follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify and now also on TikTok (basically me fondling my tape collection) or support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, and check out our kinda-sorta podcast, MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that). On to Succumb.
What was the first album you bought with your own money, and where did you buy it?
Derek: My first CD that I bought with my own money was Metallica – Ride the Lightning when I was 12. My older brother had the Black Album through Reload, so I was stoked to get my own Metallica CD. The funny thing is, I sort of blind bought this after hearing “Breadfan” off of Garage Inc on the local rock radio station 92.3 KSJO, however they did not mention the song title so I just walked right into Tower Records and bought Ride the Lightning assuming it would be on there. While “Breadfan” was not on there, what was waiting for me instead were eight songs that would put me on the path towards a lifelong obsession with riffs. There's not much I can say about Ride the Lightning that has not been said before, but to this day the hair on the back of my neck stands up whenever I hear the opening riff to that iconic title track.
Harry: I don’t quite recall which I bought with my own money, but probably either a West Coast rap album like Doggystyle or Warren G, or a 90s britpop album like Oasis, Blur or Pulp, probably at Tower Records. Britpop never really stopped being an obsession! Type O Negative’s Bloody Kisses was an early one too which is where my love of darker music started and is still one of my favorite albums to this day.
Kirk: A bit hard to remember exactly as going to Tower Records to buy CDs is one of my most ubiquitous early memories, but more than likely it was something I heard on the radio. Most of those didn't make a lasting enough impression to stick around, but I definitely can recall getting the Ramones’ Mania compilation and the Minor Threat discography CD a little bit later than my very first purchases.
What 2-3 albums did you hear the most growing up?
Derek: Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn't Stand the Weather was in heavy rotation from my dad when I was growing up. I have a lot of memories of watching him tinkering with the riff from “Cold Shot” in our garage, and it was one of the albums that sparked my initial interest in guitar. Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger was another big one when I was initially getting into music. Chris Cornell's vocal performance on “Jesus Christ Pose” had me absolutely mesmerized, and I loved the dark but swaggery vibe that permeated the whole album. Slayer – Show No Mercy is essentially the album that initially taught me how to play guitar when I was 14.
Harry: I remember hearing a lot of The Smiths and Morrissey growing up, and also the Billy Bragg album Workers Playtime really sticks out, all of which I still love. I was born in the U.K. and moved to the States with my mum when I was pretty young, and I remember her being pretty in tune with cool stuff going on in the U.K. I vividly remember her having the first Suede album on CD & finding the album cover really evocative. I didn’t get into them until way later & now they’re one of my favorite bands. Growing up with that stuff definitely had a lot to do with informing my music tastes.
Kirk: The entire Metallica discography but especially the Black Album and Pink Floyd's Meddle were constantly played by my dad. I distinctly recall getting very pumped up by “One of These Days” when I was young. The first album I remember wanting to hear over and over again was the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, it was probably my first introduction to a lot of classics! Even the Urge Overkill cover is still pretty great for me!
What two albums taught you the most about making music (mixing, production, performance)?
Derek: Morbid Angel – Covenant. This album absolutely blew me away when I got it on my 15th birthday. While it was not my first death metal album, it was the album that made me realize that it was the perfect medium of expression for me. The malevolent, otherworldly atmosphere combined with the god-tier level of musicianship on display ignited my imagination in a way that no other band could. Trey's unorthodox riffing still inspires me to push my limits both physically and mentally. On top of all of that, the songwriting is wickedly catchy and air-tight, with most of the songs clocking in at around or below 4 minutes. Portal – Outre was a big game-changer when I discovered it. At the time, it felt like the perfect antithesis to the all-too-perfect tech death that was seemingly everywhere. The combination of high-level musicianship with an unnerving atmosphere reminiscent of Beherit opened up a lot of new possibilities for where I thought this type of music could be taken.
Harry: I don’t know much about mixing & production, but I think the two albums that most influenced the way I wanted to play drums were Cradle Of Filth’s Dusk and Her Embrace and Neurosis’ Times Of Grace. Nick Barker on those 90s Cradle albums is just the perfect mix of energy, finesse & creativity to me. The drums on those records still blow me away. On the other end of the spectrum Jason Roeder’s drumming in Neurosis really taught me a lot about patience, and the idea that building up a drum part from something simple and gradually adding more details can become something almost overwhelming to listen to. I think the idea of using more hypnotic rhythms in heavy music is really cool and can sound incredibly heavy and immersive. I don’t know if I use that approach so much in Succumb, but definitely a lot in my other band Bosse-de-Nage.
Kirk: The Metallica Binge & Purge CD/VHS set from 89-91 totally peeled my wig back and probably led to every poor decision I've made since. Performance-wise, that is as good as it gets. As far as making original music, it wasn't really until I heard noise music later in high school that I thought it would be possible. Pan Sonic's first album really opened my mind around then – such deep and complex music made with such primitive and uncomplicated sources.
What is the last album that absolutely shocked you?
Derek: Defeated Sanity – The Sanguinary Impetus, for no other reason than the fact that they're still producing music of such quality this far into their career. At this point they're just victory lapping the whole death metal scene.
Harry: Not an album, but one of the most recent things I heard that really took me by surprise was the new Low song “Days Like These” from their upcoming album. When the vocals kicked in I legitimately thought I was listening to the wrong band. It kicks off sounding like this sort of autotuned modern pop song, but gets weirder as it goes on. After my first listen I didn’t really know what to make of it, then I went back to it again a couple days later & couldn’t stop listening to it. Now I’m obsessed with it!
Kirk: I still get shocked by new albums often, which is wonderful, but I would say I'm still recovering from the Autechre NTS sessions from a couple years ago. Musicians at the top of their game making music that is truly boundless and free of genre constraints.
What album relaxes you or centers you the most?
Derek: Eddie Hazel – Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs. Eddie Hazel is the king, and this is the musical equivalent of smoking a joint in a silk robe overlooking the ocean from your opulent beach house.
Harry: There was a period of probably six months during lockdown where I was listening to Grouper’s A I A: Alien Observer pretty much every day. I found during that period I mostly wanted to listen to music that was really immersive and emotional, but also not super vocal driven, which ended up being a lot of funeral doom and dungeon synth, but that Grouper album is the ultimate example of the experience I was looking for, just totally ghostly and melancholy, but also still comforting and calming to listen to.
Kirk: I listen to Sarah Davachi's Let Night Come On Bells End The Day almost once a week, it is total bliss. Sometimes it's too heavy a listen, but Gene Clark's No Other is also a basically perfect album that I listen to when I need to come back to Earth.
What are the 2-3 albums you’ve listened to the most recently?
Derek: Nocternity – Harps of the Ancient Temples, Zeeloopers – Van Gogh's Left Ear, Pharoah Sanders – Karma.
Harry: Recently a friend turned me on to this album from 2014 by the band Thine called The Dead City Blueprint which I can’t get enough of. It’s total heavy downer rock with slight prog tendencies and really reminds me of the late 90s / early 2000s period of bands like Anathema, Katatonia and Opeth, which is a period I totally love. Aside from that I’ve been trying to keep up with some newer releases, and a couple of my favorites this year have been Ancient Mastery, which is this really epic one man black metal project that’s also a little bit lo-fi, and really reminds me of some of the more cinematic fantasy oriented black metal bands I love like Summoning, Bal-Sagoth & Falkenbach. Way on the other end of the spectrum is a younger British band called Dry Cleaning, which is really surreal, funny and fascinating art rock / post punk with amazing deadpan vocals and lyrics.
Kirk: All of the most recent Sarah Davachi releases (I'll count that as one), HTRK's Psychic 9-5 Club, and Strapping Young Lad's City, but ask me again in a week and my answers will be different.
What album is grossly underrated?
Derek: Sulaco – Build and Burn. As much as I love Lethargy and the other Sulaco releases that precede this album, Build and Burn is unquestionably their masterwork. Unlike previous Sulaco/Lethargy releases, they really let the sections breathe as opposed to their trademark wildly moving through ideas at a frantic pace, which is great because there are zero filler parts on this whole album. Erik Burke is an absolute riff master, and his powers are on full display here.
Harry: I’m in the middle of revisiting the entire My Dying Bride discography right now, so I’m going to nominate their album 34.788%… Complete from 1998. It’s got a pretty bad reputation which seems to be based almost entirely on one sort of trip hop sounding track on it, but I think it’s such a cool genuinely weird & haunting album, and was a really bold step for a band that was doing very theatrical gothic music into something way grimier and more urban. The opening track “The Whore, The Cook and The Mother” is especially great. Even the trip hop track is pretty endearing!
Kirk: Drawing a distinction between “underrated” and simply not well known is tough, but the most recent Apprentice Destroyer album I thought flew too under the radar for how good it was. Going in the other direction, a friend recently turned me onto the late 80s and 90s ZZ Top records and they're totally great, synths and all.
What album would you recommend from your local scene?
Derek: Cyanic – Litanies of Lust Unholy. Nasty, straight ahead brutal death metal with a little bit of grind and black metal sprinkled in. Their frontman Andre Cornejo is a treasure of the Bay Area metal scene, so I have to put him on whenever I can. Their split with Infinite Waste is also a serious heater.
Harry: I’m going to go with the album Defenders Of The Crown by the mighty Brocas Helm, who are a criminally overlooked epic heavy metal band from San Francisco who’ve been very sporadically releasing some of the most raucous triumphant and charismatic heavy metal since the early 1980s. Defenders is their most recent album and is a full 17 years old at this point, and their previous album came out 16 years before that, so hopefully that means they’re due for a new album any day now!
Kirk: My local scene was Arizona growing up so I'll say Sun City Girls Torch of the Mystics. Arizona was a bizarre place and they are a bizarre band! Totally out there and true dedication to the underground.