Photos By Dan Virchow
Metal music is potentially the most misunderstood and misinterpreted genre in music. One immediately conjures up Tipper Gore and her endless crusade to rid the world of metal through the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). This could also drum up memories of Frank Zappa and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider taking Gore and the PMRC to task in an eloquent and intelligent fashion at a U.S. Senate hearing. Proving that metalheads were indeed human beings, who just so happened to have long hair and wear denim and leather.
Regardless, metal (and its subgenres) have always seemed to be relegated to the underground. While it remains a niche genre of music, its artists and bands continue to sell out festivals and concerts to millions of headbangers. Consider it a collective gathering of societal underdogs.
Fargo-based death metal band Gorgatron is creating music for those underdogs. Since 2006, Gorgatron has helped create and cultivate a blossoming death metal scene in Fargo-Moorhead. With three full albums of proof, Gorgatron offers up tracks tailor-made for the riff-loving and speed-craving metalhead in all of us.
Their newest release, Pathogenic Automation, is further proof of Gorgatron’s talent and ability. The frenetic pace, fret-burning riffs and thunderous sonic tones are so appealing you cannot help but begin to bang your head or turn the volume to a maximum. Add in piercing vocals with some thought-provoking lyrical content too. The final product is a death metal record that does not take a second for granted in its full 41-minute runtime. It is also an album worth listening to over and over again; you may just need a cold shower after each playthrough.
We discussed Pathogenic Automation, the COVID-19 music scene and the metal genre with Gorgatron bassist Cam Dewald and vocalist Karl Schmidt.
How did you approach the new record and what were you guys aiming for in the studio as far as lyrics and music?
Cam Dewald: For me, this is the first album I have been a part of. I came in during the last album cycle right as that came out. Initially, we were going to do a five-song EP and our management and the suits were saying it would be hard to shop that. They thought if we could do a full album, that’d be better. It was cool though because we spent a year and a half on the first five and spent another year on the four. So every song got our full attention. Sometimes, there is filler on albums, but I personally don’t think there is any of that here. As far as writing, it was kind of a joint effort between all of the members, but Karl does all the lyrics because he went to college.
Karl Schmidt: It was kind of frustrating at first because we recorded those five songs and we were just going to record the other tunes, but we found that it sounded different. So we had to re-record those first five tunes. It is a joint effort and we also got our old guitar player, Neal, back so it was the first time we had five people on the record. It was more collective, I suppose. Usually, it’s one dude who writes the guitar riffs and feeds it to the drummer and we go from there, but this one felt like we all pitched in and did things here and there.
As for lyrical content, this one is pretty much about turning into a robot. I wouldn’t say it’s different from another record because I have plenty of songs about turning into a robot. I’d say these lyrics are a bit more realistic and relating to things that are real. instead of just violence, getting ripped apart and all these death metal themes, this one is more about relating it to an actual situation in life. For example, “Pathogenic Automation,” the title track, on the surface it’s a mad scientist turning a bunch of people into robots on a global scale. What I meant and what I Trojan Horsed into the song are themes like how everyone is on their phone these days and they just repeat what they hear. Everyone is just turning into an automated system.
The reason I like doing that is that it is extreme death metal. You have to have these extreme themes, but I like to also insert some realism to it
This was your first record as a five-piece. How did that enhance your sound as a band?
CD: We’re pretty tight musically and playing-wise. We were sometimes practicing four times a week. That is one thing we kind of pride ourselves on. On top of that, we all try to meld our guitar tones into one to make one sonic boom. Luckily, Neal has the best ears in the Midwest for capturing music. The funny thing is he only has one ear; he only has hearing in one ear. That’s phenomenal to me.
KS: That dude can hear more with his one ear than some people can with two. It’s pretty impressive. Cam will probably downplay this, but our past bass player, he played with his fingers and he had a different rig and everything. I feel like the record before this, we kind of honed our sound, but on this record, we really smoothed it out and captured our sound. Cam plays with a pick so he can do some faster things with the bass.
COVID-19 has really hit the music scene hard. What have been some of the challenges in releasing and promoting an album in this time?
CD: Originally, this album was supposed to come out in November. We were going to start doing the singles in November, December, January and February with the full album in March.
It definitely hit us hard as far as touring. We had budgeted for a tour in April and May, which would have segwayed into a summer tour and we had an offer on the table for fall. All of that financially would have pushed us into next year and possibly Europe. All of that got canceled, and it’s not just us because there are bands on a grander scale that got U.S. grants for hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’re all in this together, but luckily we have a good team that is in the industry that is trying to help us chisel out our little niche. Extreme music is such a niche community as it is.
KS: On the one hand, it would have been cool to release this record before COVID because there would be some crazy dude who says “they called it!” and we’d get the conspiracy theorists.
CD: All of the stamping on the sonic stuff does predate 2020, so we have that for the nerds.
KS: It would be even crazier if there were a news article one day that says ‘studies show that victims of this pandemic may turn into a fully automated robot.’ Then we’d be in trouble.
Bands have had to be especially creative during COVID-19 too. How have you guys continued to grow and promote Gorgatron?
CD: Outside of extreme metal, we’re always doing something. We do a lot of skits where we do funny stuff. This year, we started a podcast and we’re upgrading that and we’re going to do more video with that. We’re going to bring back the skits and figure out a way to do that. We have done a few shows and we played a two-hour live stream too.
KS: We’re trying to create as much presence online as possible. We did a two-hour live stream with Livewire and that was really good and successful to my knowledge. We did play a couple of shows, one of them we were contractually obligated to play months prior. Bless the promoter, she just adapted to the situation and made masks required and had a separate area for people who were not feeling comfortable. That worked out well. A couple of weeks ago, we did something similar at The Aquarium. The same situation with masks required, we did half capacity and we also did a live stream for that show as well. To my knowledge, that was successful as well.
I have not gotten reports of anyone getting sick at any of those shows. We have played three actual shows with people since everything went down. It seems to have worked.
One of the things that really frustrates me about this whole thing is that after we played that show at The Aquarium, a bunch of people had said that we were putting people at risk. That’s nonsense. We are not the ones making those calls; we’re just trying to save the music scene.
CD: You could have gone to Walmart at the same time as our show and there were probably more than 150 people there. We worked with the promotion team and the management to make sure everything was safe. There will always be naysayers though, but we don’t know until we try.
A few songs off of the new record have made their way onto curated playlists on Apple Music and Spotify. How has that enhanced your reach and listenership?
CD: Metric-wise, we put out four singles leading up to the album and each one got placed all over on all types of streaming platforms. It has boosted our listenership for sure. We averaged about 15,000 listeners a month across streaming platforms. Now, it has shot up to hundreds of thousands. That’s really cool because our main demographic is 18 to mid-30s, predominantly male. In the last six months, I’ve watched that change to the point where it is all over the place now. Our main bulk is the Midwest and now we have listeners in almost all 50 states, Canada, a boatload in Europe too. As a metal band, Europe is where we want to tap into. That is our Valhalla.
The death metal scene in Fargo is still an underground movement, but it has really gained steam in recent years. How have you seen the genre grow in this area?
CD: I moved here in 2012 and I had actually seen Gorgatron a bunch of times throughout the Midwest. I had never been to Fargo, but there had to be something here to be able to play this kind of music. Eventually, I ended up in the band, which is hilarious now. When I moved here, there were a few bands, but they were more punk/hardcore groups. Over the last four years or so, death metal bands have been popping up everywhere. Bands like Maul, Phobophilic and Widow are bands that have popped up in that span. It’s cool because a lot of those cats are good friends and it’s cool to see them in this scene.
KS: We just try to roll with the punches as far as the scene around here. Something a lot of people don’t know is that we’ll play with anybody no matter the style. Therein lies a problem because there are a lot of bands that do not want to be on bills with us. I get it, if you’re a softer band, you’re not going to want this loud, obnoxious death metal band playing before or after. At the Livewire stream, we came on after a folk group. It’s acoustic guitar and violin. When they got done playing, the guy running the stream didn’t want dead air. We walked up on stage, turned on our amps and started. It was like a minute and a half turnover time. So we can play with anyone.
Metal is a genre that so often gets misrepresented and misinterpreted. There are still plenty of people who have negative connotations with the genre. Do you guys ever feel those misnomers and how do you go about disproving them?
CD: It’s interesting being in a workplace and playing in a death metal band and being a fan of this kind of music. Most of the people I know listen to country where the heaviest thing they’ve heard is maybe Metallica. I just tell them that we play music that is kind of like Metallica, but heavier. At the end of the day, here is where I am at with this question: it’s rock and roll. Extreme metal or any kind of metal is rock and roll because we’re out there pounding the pavement the same way rock bands are. We’re just a bit louder and faster.
KS: There is kind of a tough guy complex in metal where people take themselves super seriously. We don’t do that. We’re not going to sit here and pretend to be tough or prove toughness. A lot of people think that the metal community is full of racism, misogyny, satanism and all this bull****. We don’t f*** with any of that. None of my lyrics are killing women or anything that people associate with metal. I don’t even get into politics if I’m writing lyrics. We don’t need that at all in any musical genre.
CD: Dave Mustaine of Megadeth said something about satanism in metal or whatever. He said ‘why would you pigeonhole yourself? Now, everything you do has to be that.’
KS: And there are bands that have that, to be fair.
CD: But I think we do a good job of leaving it up to the listener’s interpretation. Meld the words into whatever you want them to be.
KS: Honestly, if people ever ask me about lyrical themes. I usually say
they are about turning into robots or food. If someone is offended at the fact that I like fried onions or something, what are you going to say? If I’m talking about banh mi sandwiches and someone gets offended, that is just because you don’t like banh mi sandwiches. You can’t get mad at that.
CD: That’s metal, man. We’re one with the underdogs. If people want to think we’re these crazy people, we’re not. We’re just dudes.
Where do you want to take Gorgatron in the future? What sort of goals do you guys have?
CD: There is the delusion of grandeur or world tours with the biggest bands. Until then, the realistic ones are financially and logistically planning out a European tour. We just had to pass up an offer because it logistically didn’t make sense. We’ve been getting the offers for two to three years now, but it just doesn’t logistically add up yet. The COVID kick didn’t really help that.
KS: The issue is we don’t have any shows as a form of income for the foreseeable future. Other than our web store, which is cool, but that is what it is though.
CD: The feasible things are planning out a proper European tour. We have a booking agency putting together appearances in the States too. The main goal that we’ve really been working towards with this current release is graduating up in the label.
A lot of people think that the metal community is full of racism, misogyny, satanism and all this bull****. We don’t f*** with any of that.– Karl Schmidt
Right now, we’re with a record label called Bloodblast Distribution and they are a subsidy of a bigger label called Nuclear Blast. They are an international label and the plan is to get our sales to a certain point, which today is anywhere between 1,500 and 3,000 units. Whereas 10 to 15 years ago, Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP and it moved like 750,000 units and his label was worried.
It’s cool in this genre because you can see a band like Cannibal Corpse on the Billboard Top 40 because metal fans still buy stuff. Your casual listener is listening on the radio. So a big goal for us is to get on a bigger label which we hope will happen not on our next release, but the release after that. In the next five years, we want to be on a bigger label and touring. That would be the perfect goal. We’ll see.
KS: On a much smaller level, if I had to choose a goal it would be this. For those reading, there are a lot of bands that want fame, the partying, the money and all that stuff. My goal as a band dude is to just get to the point where I don’t have to drive on tour ever again. Whether that means paying a driver or being in a bus, that is my only goal. If we could make zero dollars on the road, but I never had to drive on the interstate, my life would be great.
CD: I thought you were going to say you want to get to the point where someone brings you a gyro or burrito on stage at every show.
KS: That would be cool too.
Is there anything else our readers should know about Gorgatron?
CD: A lot of bands from this area that are in this extreme world, they almost frown upon being from Fargo. We are proudly from the Fargo-Moorhead area and we rep it. Those of you reading, invite your whole friend’s list to our Facebook page and share our stuff. Spreading the word is what it’s all about.
KS: If you want to see us do certain skits, we do take requests. We’ll do dumb stuff.
Merchandise: gorgatronband.com/merch. Get free shipping on all orders using the code “TRON2020”. If you live locally, Karl will even mail or deliver your items to you personally!
More Merchandise: indiemerchstore.com search “Gorgatron”
Youtube: Search “Gorgatron Official”
Stream Gorgatron: Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, Bandcamp, Napster, Deezer, iHeart Radio and more!