an interview with Cleric

Cleric is a Dallas based band that focuses on a Swedish Death Metal basis of ideas and takes you on a nightmarish trip to a cosmic hell lurking in the darkest depths of human imagination. The riffs are pretty badass too. I spoke with guitarist Chris Richardson the night before their show opening in Dallas at Club Dada for Eternal Champion, Sumerlands, & Venomous Maximus’ three date Tejas excursion.

So I guess to get things started, who am I speaking with?

Chris Richardson. I’m one of the guitarists for the band.

And you did vocals in the original incarnation of Cleric also right?

I did, yes.

Was there any specific reason when you guys regrouped that you aimed for a different singer? Zac’s a great fit.

The main reason was that I didn’t feel that I was able to physically do it anymore. Plus, I’d seen Zac doing vocals in Tyrannosorceress with John Schiller and Zach Jobin and felt he’d be a better fit for the band than what I was able to offer. It, in turn, freed me up to worry about writing riffs, working out leads, and wrecking neck with head banging.

I guess having 3 members of a previous band really helped have a cohesive vibe as well. Gratum Inferno is a very well put together debut. Do you consider the 2011 reboot of the band the actual beginning or were those first years a big part of the formative process?

It was definitely part of the formative process. We bounced from being a straight up doom 3 piece to adding a second guitarist in Andrew Hawkins and moving into the old school death metal realm. I don’t think we’re out of that process yet, I feel that we’re still developing our sound with each song we write and will probably try to do so until we say “enough” and ride off into the sunset.

I definitely pick up on a little doom influence so I see that. Almost everything I’ve read about you guys makes reference to the Sunlight Studios influence, which is made obvious by tracks with titles like “Left Hand Wrath,” but I’m curious as to what other bands influence you guys aesthetically and sonically. I sense a lot of similarities with what labels like Profound Lore are doing. Deep attention to artwork and presentation and lyrics that go beyond your early 90s death metal gore.

Oh man! Here’s the fun part… So, the huge influence is, of course, the Swedish Death Metal sound brought about by Sunlight Studios. Morbid Angel and the Florida death metal scene are also influential. The Martin Van Drunen bands (Asphyx, Pestilence, Hail Of Bullets) are also up there in influence. A lot of the stuff that’s currently being released by labels like Profound Lore and Dark Descent are current influences as well. But, yeah, Entombed, Grave, Unleashed, Bloodbath, Edge Of Sanity are heavy personal influences for me when I start to approach song writing these days.

What I love is that it’s not re-hashed…it feels very modern and unique but with a nod to all the legends. The guitar sound on the album almost gives it a crust-punk quality but then the Unleashed and more black metal-like tendencies take it to a whole different level. For a band that’s relatively new, you guys have really created a signature sound that I think older death metal fans have been longing for.

We do like to walk across in the crust punk realm from time to time. It adds variety and, at times, can up the intensity of a song.

You mentioned song writing these days, you guys are in the midst of recording album no. 2 right?

We are in the midst of recording a new album at this time and our current set is compromised of new material at the time. So when you catch us live these days it’s all new material, maybe we’ll occasionally throw in one song from Gratum Inferno just for the fun of it.

With bands like Venomous Maximus, Power Trip, Expander, & Eternal Champion, it seems like Texas is returning to a pretty damn good metal scene like the 80s and early 90s. Lots of bands really reaching out to the true metal heads’ desires in music.

Yeah, not to mention that Mammoth Grinder is entering the studio soon. Tyrannosorceress is about to release their album this year. We also have Baring Teeth and the grindcore bands Cognizant and Kaliya in Dallas that just rip your face off. We’re seeing a good run of form in Texas right now for Metal in all sub-genres.

Oh yeah, can’t wait for that Mammoth Grinder. Chris Ulsh is a beast. I had no idea Tyranasorceress was working on new music as well.

T-Sorceress should have that album out this spring. It’s done and ready to press, I believe.

You’re actually a member of Kaliya also, if I’m not mistaken? 

I am one of Kaliya’s rotating bass player, yes. Hahaha, I wanted a change of pace from guitar and they were willing to work with my schedule and bring me on board. Good guys to work with.

I gather you guys are pretty close with Crawl and even did a clash set with them back when Full Of Hell & The Body came through. What was that like? That’s a pretty unusual set-up 

We actually toured with Crawl in 2015 through the Midwest. Mike’s sound is probably one of the most abrasive and nihilist things I’ve ever experienced. Just rattles your bones live.

That’s another thing I loved about Gratum Inferno. The interludes are so unsettling and surreal. Can’t recall many death metal albums that have a reoccurring cohesive element throughout like that.

Oh, yeah, the samples… well, I’m not a big fan of dead space in a live setting. I feel it kills the mood for the live performance. So I whipped up samples to play in between songs during our set early on. When we went in to record Gratum we decided to drop them into the album to keep the soundscape as similar to the live setting as possible. It just so happens that it also made the album sound even more unsettling.

It definitely does leave an unsettling feel. Even from that synthy, eerie, crackling intro….you don’t know what you’re in for. Between the samples and the cover art, I get a very Lovecraftian feel from the album experience.

Man, that’s an honor to hear that it’s a Lovecraftian experience.

I was hoping you guys were fans. Obviously the Satanic overtones are there but I get the very cosmic, darkness of the abyss vibe from it all as well. So you guys definitely stay busy, haha. Lots of things to look forward to.

I don’t think we had any ambitions to create any major theme with that album. It really just unfolded the way that it did.

And speaking of the cover art, dear God. What a masterpiece.

Hahaha, yeah, Jason Barnett did us a solid with that artwork. It’s an exceptional piece of work.

So will the new album be through Tofu Carnage? And do you see 2017 to be the year of the new album’s release? Sounds like everyone stays pretty busy.

We’re not sure yet. We’re keeping it open for offers far and wide right now. Realistically, we’ll see the new album sometime in 2018. We’re still in the stages of tracking right now and we’re not wanting to rush it too much. I would love to get it out to the public this year, but it probably wont happen.

I guess while Cleric may seem relatively new you guys have your hands in the scene for a while now leaving a mark with members who were in bands including Steel Bearing Hand, Baring Teeth, and Man Is Mostly Water.

I would say we have. I guess you could say that that has also influenced us as musicians and our song writing as well throughout the years too.

Alright, a few more questions and I’ll let you get back to it, man. Outside of the previously stated musical influences, are there any film or literary influences you guys look to?

Film influences? Man, that’s a tough one. I guess horror movies mainly, throw in some John Carpenter and Alejandro Jodorowsky for good fun. For sample/ interlude influence I’ve pull from soundtracks for movies like Blade Runner, Alien, Tron, Beyond The Black Rainbow in the past. Literary influences I couldn’t give you a point of reference. I know Zac is delving into reading about the occult and satanism, but I’m not certain of the literature he’s reading these days. I can’t speak for the other guys in the band, unfortunately. I’m on a history kick these days and I’m just focusing on World War I literary works at the moment, so that’s not influencing much in regards to the band in that aspect.

And for a final question. Bit of a cliche, but I like to throw it in. Top 5 albums. Any genre.

Ok, I’ll just stick with the Death Metal genre. I’d need more than 5 to list additional genres, haha. So here we go:
1) Entombed: Left Hand Path
2) Grave: You’ll Never See
3) Carcass: Heartwork
4) Unleashed: Where No Life Dwells
5) Bloodbath: Resurrection Through Carnage

Awesome choices man. Definitely shows the roots of Cleric. Well thanks for the time I appreciate the talk!

Awesome. Thanks, man. We appreciate it as well.

Oh yeah, I meant to ask. Is this the first Cleric interview? I didn’t come across anything else online.

Haha, yeah. I think it is officially the first interview for the band.

Hell yeah man. Glad we could pop the interview cherry!

Listen to Cleric’s soul shaking album at https://clericdeath.bandcamp.com/

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