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THE PLAGUE's Mike: “It is probably not the right thing to say right now that The Plague is spreading globally”

Interview with The Plague from Mike, Shane, Zac
by Thomas Kumke at 30 May 2021, 10:04 PM

THE PLAGUE are a traditional Death Metal band from Sidney, Australia. They were formed in 2016 and they released their full-length album “Within Death” in April 2021 via Bitter Loss Records. Metal Temple writer Thomas Kumke was fortunate to have a lengthy chat with vocalist Mike, guitarist Shane, and drummer Zac about the band’s new album, their European Death Metal inspirations, the differences between European and American Death Metal, the situation of Australian Metal, and their future plans. THE PLAGUE are:

Hello The Plague, it is a real pleasure to have you and I am really grateful to perform an interview with you for Metal Temple magazine. First of all I hope you all had a good start in 2021 and you are all well.

Mike: Yeah, it has been pretty good so far. In Australia and Sydney, shows are starting to happen again, which is good. We have already played a few shows this year and we have got a lot of shows coming up all around Australia throughout the year. Last year was not that great for anybody, but it is good to say that things are starting to open up again. How is it all going in Europe?

 In Germany things are very slow, but it is different throughout Europe. They are quite ahead with the vaccines in UK, so they started opening up again. In Germany, it takes a long time with vaccines, but they are going to start opening up during the upcoming weeks. So it looks like you have won the battle with the pandemic in Australia…

Zac: No. We are winning the battle. We have not won yet. A couple weeks ago, we had a scare because there was one case in our state and that caused pandemonium. Just one case and nearly everything got shut down again. We were lucky, it was just the one case and it stayed that way. They have started rolling the vaccine out here for elderly people and frontline workers. People like the three of us would not be getting it till later on. Australia has always been lucky in the sense that it is very far away from everywhere else. It did not spread as quickly as it did in Germany or the UK. We are allowed to travel to and from New Zealand again, which is okay for a lot of people.

Mike: We were very lucky regarding the case numbers. Australia is a giant island and our government is pretty strict on people coming in and out at the moment. Shane: The strain that we had over here is nothing like the strains in Europe. The strains you guys got are a lot stronger than the strain we had. Maybe over 100 deaths here is not that many compared to the rest of the world. I think the one case that came in the other week was from America. That is why they were strict and started shutting everything down.

It looks like gigs are possible in Australia. Are there any sort of restrictions for playing gigs?

Zac: There are still capacity limits with the venues. I think the venues are restricted to something like 75% of the capacity until the beginning of this week. I think they were seated gigs, but now you are allowed to stand and you can sing, dance, and whatever you want to do. We did a gig last year in our capital Canberra and was a completely seated, social distancing show. It was one of the weirdest shows we have ever played, just to see these metal heads in these big, comfortable lounges and head-banging in their chairs. They could not get up and move, it was just weird to see.

That is at least something, but I do not see the big Metal guns coming over to Australia yet…

Shane: That is because of security. Everyone who comes in is only allowed on a strict working visa and they have to quarantine in a hotel up to 14 days.

Mike: It is very expensive for bands which come to Australia from Europe or America, or anywhere in the world. I talked to those international bands who we supported before, and they say that when coming to Australia, there is not much money to be made. It is only like a big working holiday for the bands. With that and then the quarantine, it does make it hard for any international band to come at the moment. That sucks, because we want to see them. Sacred Reich was scheduled to come to Australia and we got announced to support them, but then it has been postponed to October this year.

The Plague was formed in 2016. Some of you were playing in various Death Metal bands before. What was the idea behind the founding The Plague?

Shane: I always wanted to do a Swedish sounding Death Metal band, no one really over here had done this back then around 2015 or 2016. There were only very few overseas bands who had done that as well. Then, I think before we had done the first gig, we wrote 7 or 8 songs in no time and we were sort of instantly a band and it was just rolled off from there.

Zac: I joined the band after The Plague’s EP was released in 2017. Shane is supplying a lot of bands that I used to watch as a teenager. I used to watch Bludgeoner quite a lot. Mike and I have been friends for a long time. I was playing in a couple of bands and Mike asked me to come along and have a crack at it. I did it and that brings us up to this point. Mike: One of the best things we ever did, because Zac is a kick-ass drummer.

Your former bands like Bludgeoner or Paralysis are Brutal Death Metal/Grindcore and Thrash Metal bands, while The Plague follow more the traditional Death Metal path…

Mike: Yeah, pretty much so. My band Paralysis was more of a Thrash Metal type of band.

Zac: I have spent a lot of my time in Thrash Metal bands. There was Metal World, Dark Aura and a few other bands where I have been in and out. Thrash Metal is my primary influence on things. So it was actually cool to come and do a Swedish thing. I am actually proud of that I was not familiar with the Swedish stuff. I knew Entombed and Dismember but that was really it for me. After joining this band, I have discovered plenty of other bands.

Zac, How did you come into drums?

Zac: When I was a kid, my mom asked me and my sister if we wanted to play drums and we both said no. Then, five minutes later, I told my mom that I would have a go at it. She used to work with a bloke who was a drum teacher. So I started getting lessons from him and I just kept on practicing. I just fell into it. My parents are not musical at all. They like music, but they cannot play it. I am the only musician in my family and I just enjoyed it. My drum teacher was playing Kiss all the time in his car and I learned how to play Kiss songs and then Nirvana when I was about ten years old. I learned how to play all that and all the 80s stuff. When I got older, I discovered heavier and faster bands and I wanted to play like them, so I practiced and that was it. I actually did start playing guitar when I was even younger but I was not practicing and I did not get any better at it. So I threw it away right over to my cousin who did nothing with it either. I always liked music, I never asked to play guitar or the drums or anything. My parents just said have a go. I did it and one worked out, the other not.

Shane, guitar is probably a dream instrument for a kid…

Shane: I was the youngest out of four brothers growing up. My oldest brother started working first and bought a guitar. He would buy records every week, because the younger three ones came into metal and playing guitar. We used to wait for him to go to work to sneak in his bedroom to play his guitar. Later on, I got a second hand bass guitar. My first couple of bands were with my older brother doing Death Metal and sort of Carcass and Pestilence type of music. I played bass for maybe five or six years. I always played guitar as well and I just jumped on guitar. I wrote a lot of riffs on guitar and it sounded a lot better writing riffs on guitar. I got on the muffling and the picking and just stuck to that.

Mike, how did you become a vocalist?

Mike: I remember the first time I heard Metal at my cousin's place, and he put on Pantera’s “Vulgar Display Of Power” album. I listened to that and life changed instantly when I was only about five years old. Ever since then, I gravitated to heavy music. I did know that I always wanted to be in a Metal band ever since I heard that. I tried my hand at guitar, but I just did not have the patience to stick at it. My mom would never ever buy me a drum kit and like my mom, I would never ever buy one. Then one day it was Pantera again with “The Great Southern Trendkill” scream at the start of that album and I was like, I want to do that.

Zac: That was with Seth Putnam. Mike: Oh, yeah. Well, I heard that scream and I knew that is what I want to do. I kept practicing singing that over and over again until my voice got hoarse and I finally learned how to do it. Then I just kept practicing and singing along to my favorite albums as I got older and older. Eventually I joined a couple of bands and we did a lot of covers. That was a lot of fun, but nothing really that became serious. I grew up at a little coastal city called Woolongong which is south of Sydney. Later I moved up to Sydney to start a band and it took me a couple of years, but eventually I started with Paralysis. I just kept working on my vocals that way, and now I am in The Plague and I think I found my place with my voice. I really think I am more suited as a Death Metal singer. I just keep trying to do my best and that is pretty much it.

Did you ever have vocal lessons?

Mike: Yes, I have had one or two vocal lessons. Actually, I do not know if you heard an Australian Pop singer called Delta Goodrem. I went to her singing teacher which was very expensive. The vocal teacher made a mistake. She gave me a CD with vocal exercises to do. So, as I was driving to and from work every day, I would be doing the vocal exercises in my car and I thought, well, if I bought the CD, and I have got the vocal exercises from her, I just keep practicing this CD. That is what I did.

I guess she did not teach you growling…

Mike: She did not teach growling vocals. No. That is just something that comes with practice. With the growling stuff, I watched a couple of YouTube videos, and it is all about your technique. I get often asked: does that not hurt your voice? Or: can you talk after a show? Yeah, I can talk fine after show. It is just technique and if I would give a tip to any aspiring vocalist, sing from your diaphragm, sing from your stomach.

After having an EP in 2017, you released your debut full-length album “Within Death” a few weeks ago. How was the response so far?

Zac: The response has been really, really good. We have been getting a good response from overseas as well as from Australia. I am personally pleased with it, because we recorded this at the end of 2019 and then the pandemic started and there were a lot of other hurdles last year, nothing really happened with the album until now. The good thing is, it feels like we have done it properly. We have done it the right way and the response that we are getting reflects that I think. I am very happy with the response that we have seen. No one has turned around to me and said this is shit.

Mike: I am really pleased at how it is gaining momentum. We have been getting reviews from all over the world. Just this week alone, we have had three or four different positive reviews, which is really good. It seems that the album is getting out there globally, which is what we are aiming to do. I ship all the merchandise out and at the moment, I have got loads of orders to ship all over the globe. It is a bit overwhelming actually how many positive reviews there are and how good the album is going for. It is probably not the right thing to say right now that The Plague is spreading globally.

Shane: I am very happy with that. We got a sort of four out of five or eight out of ten in the reviews, so I am happy with that. We went out setting the world on fire and were doing material that is pretty much like a homage to the 90s Death Metal. Literally, we were trying to take it back in time to make it sound like that, both with songwriting and the actual sound of the album. I think a lot of albums are too polished these days. We tried to make it sound back in the 90s, but still have the tight edges to it and pay tribute to the 90s stuff.

Zac: One of the things that I heard from a lot of people is that this album takes them down memory lane. They may or may not have had listened to it for a long time and people are just being reminded on this beloved Swedish sound. I think this album is bringing that back for them. Like Shane said, we have not tried to reinvent the wheel, we just pay homage to some of our biggest influences, and we hope we have done a lot of justice.


”Within Death” is an old school Death Metal album that is inspired by the Swedish Death Metal school. Why is there such focus on Swedish Death Metal?

Shane: It started off that I had a Swedish Death Metal sound in mind, I wanted to do a Swedish sounding album. Musical wise, definitely Dismember is one of the first influences on the album, but there also little parts of Asphyx, Grave, Pestilence, and Carcass in there. Since the album sounds Swedish, a lot of people think it is just Swedish. There are a few guys who have noticed that once you get into it riff-wise, there is a lot of different stuff in the album. I have always liked the raw stuff, which is first Dismember, but also Pestilence’s “Consuming impulse” is a big influence. There is a lot of that in there. It is not just Dismember, although I know, everyone looks at them straightaway. There is quite a bit more in there.

How did the songwriting process for ”Within Death” work?

Shane: With the first EP, a lot of songs were pretty much done when we created the band. It was just laying the drums down. I have always had ideas and my riffs on my sleeve. We had then like two or three songs, written in a row, and then join them with a lot of riffs. Before we realized it, we had a full set for the EP, and there were some songs on this new album that were left over from the EP. Generally, I write riffs at home and I wait for the perfect riff to combine with certain riffs. I do not like shoving riffs together just for the sake of it. I have all sorts of 15 to 20 riffs and I wait for the right ones to put together and then making the songs that way. Then I would show that and what the ideas are and stuff like that. I generally do not like riding on the spot and just jamming the riffs together. I do not think that this comes out the best way. I wait until I have got the perfect connecting riffs.

Zac: Shane comes to me with a pretty much full arrangement. We have then got a skeleton in place to build on and then we start nodding out the structure of the song, then the basic drum parts, and then as the song comes to life later on, we start looking at fills and size and all that. Finally, Mike is the last one to come in and writes the lyrics to it. Shane: Often when I write the riffs, I have actually got beats before I got riffs, depending on the riff like a Thrash Metal type of riff, or a double-bass pedal type of riff, or a blast-beat riff. I do it that way, as long as it sounds. When we piece them together, it can be like a head-banging song or when I write a bunch of thrash riffs it would be a thrash song. I have got about five riffs sitting there and see which one fits best for the song.

Mike: I would say it is like a jigsaw, with the riffs being puzzle pieces all over the ground and you trying to fit in and put it together. It is cool. When I joined the band, it was a different style for me because usually with other bands I had already a book of lyrics written with my writing style. Now, I hear the riff and then the guys will show me the whole song and it will take about a week or two to come up with the song concept just by hearing the sound. In that way I just get a feel for what the song should be about and I will come up with an idea, for instance “Slave To Addiction” which is about a junkie overdosing. It is a really cool style and a way for me to write, I really enjoy it.

How do you compare the Swedish Death Metal with the US traditional school and UK Death Metal?

Shane: This is a tough one! Obviously, sound wise, the European Death Metal with Dismember, Grave, or Pestilence always had a very raw sound. I always liked very raw sounds. The American bands had a bit more polished sound but maybe they had better studios. In terms of the songwriting they are different. I think some of the Thrash Metal in there came from the late part of the Thrash Metal era. We tried to put a lot of Thrash beats into our sound like Dismember did. We tried to stick with that and go down that sort of route. Yeah, tough question.

Zac: When you compare European Death Metal and American Death Metal, I always found that the European stuff is more melodic. Structurally, I think it is more complex. I actually think the opposite of Shane regarding the sound. When you go back to the early days of Death Metal, for example the early days of Morbid Angel, I think the sound was really raw, especially with the early desktop mastering. The big standout is the guitar sound. With Entombed and Dismember, the HM-2 sound with the buzzsaw guitars is the biggest difference for me. Vocally? I do not think there is a difference. I think the big difference is the sound of the guitars and structurally as well. I think the European Death Metal bands do it a little bit better.

Mike: As a vocalist, I have got to disagree on that what Zac just said about the vocals. If you compare Chris Barnes with the late L.G. Petrov, there is a complete difference.

Zac: At a face value, somebody who has not listened to Metal will not be able to tell the difference. You have got to sit down and listen to it all. In a nutshell, L.G. Petrov and Chris Barnes are incredibly different, but for those two who are polar opposites, there are a lot of other vocalists that do sound similar, but they are still unique in their own way. That is a tough question.

What is your favorite song on ”Within Death” and why?

Zac: My all-time favorite song in this band is actually on the EP. There are a lot of favorite songs on this album. I think it probably is “Festering And Sickness”, the last track. It is just the build-up at the beginning of the song. That gets me going every time and from when it starts at the beginning being slow and doomy. Then it just kicks off as fast for the rest. I just love the tempo change, for me that tempo change provides a punch in the face. It has got melody, aggression, tempo changes, and it has got time signature changes. That song has everything that album has done.

Mike: It is hard, I cannot really narrow it down but it would be “Effigy Of The Rotten” and “Festering And Sickness”. “Effigy Of The Rotten” because similar to what Zac said, it is a great song. I really enjoy singing it, because it is loosely based on the serial killer theme. The whole song is about someone who collects rotting body parts and makes art out of them. With “Festering And Sickness”, I really tried to challenge myself vocally with that and give the best performance I could do. It really took it out of me in the studio and needed a few tapes to get it right. I really tried to give it all in that song and I am really happy with the end result.

Shane: It is probably “Effigy Of The Rotten”, it got some thrash and some heavy parts in it. I like putting a bit of everything into the song. Although on the other hand, I like songs like “Torment The Living”. It is just flat out playing that Dismember and Grave path and it has this roar in the middle of the song. Mike: Yeah, it is a punch in the face.

Mike you mentioned the lyrics. Where do you get your lyrical inspirations from?

Mike: My inspiration actually comes from anywhere and at any time. That is a good thing about technology, because if I am out and I would see a cool phrase, it would not get lost. For example, when I was in London and visited the London Dungeon a couple of years ago, I saw a phrase written that I would use for a song. So, I take my inspiration all around the world, from anywhere and I use everything. I am watching stories I hear on the news and I think that would make a really cool song. I would just jot all things down as I see them. Also, as I said before, when it comes to writing the lyrics, I like hearing the song to get a feel for it within the music and see where that song should go lyrically.

What do you think about lyrical concept albums?

Mike: It is definitely a possibility, but I like to change it up a bit with my songs. As I said before “Effigy Of The Rotten” is about a serial killer and “Festering And Sickness” is about a psychopath who injects someone with a deadly disease and keeps them locked in a room and watches them slowly fester away and die tightening. I could do a concept type of album, but honestly, I do not think that would be our style.

Zac: I like concept albums. I really do like them all. You just have to think to yourself how are you going to write a whole album about a serial killer? It could be an album about serial killers, but imagine writing a whole album about Jeffrey Dahmer. You have got to pick your concept and especially in Death Metal there are a lot of things that have already been done. You have to be careful with that otherwise people pick up on that and say it is just another one on Dahmer.

Mike: Often, Shane will actually come up with a lot of album titles. For the new album, he came up with the title “Within Death”. I take that title and I write the lyrics just based around that title as well sometimes.

Shane: When we wrote the EP, we did not have a name for the band at the time. Then we wanted to record it and we picked the band name from a song title of our EP. That seem to come out better and not as obvious.

What are your top three favorite Metal bands of all time?

Zac: Slayer!

Mike: No.

Zac: Then Tankard. I am a massive Tankard fan. They came to Australia and I actually drank with them and I was the last man standing. The third one… it always changes a little bit. I am big fan of Toxik at the moment, an old Thrash Metal band. The third band tends to change a little bit, last week it could be Kreator or it could be Sodom next week. This week it is Toxik.

There is some German influence…

Zac: I think actually all three of us are big fans of the German thrash bands. I am going to add a fourth one: Vader. I am a big fan of Vader. We all love the German bands: Sodom, Kreator, Destruction. I think some of the most brutal Thrash Metal is actually coming out of Germany. I think the Germans showed the Americans how it was done, especially when Sodom and Kreator came out.

Mike: Death, Judas Priest, and the third one is difficult, it is going to be Pantera. They always had a big influence on me. Shane: It is very hard to pick bands because bands change over time. Some albums I will dig and then they change, so it is very hard to put a band in general. If I pick three albums, my favorites influence-wise would be Pestilence “Consuming Impulse”, Carcass “Symphonies Of Sickness”, and Terrorizer “World Downfall”. I love that first Terrorizer album, the other ones after that were nothing like that. That would be the three albums. But I could pick another ten top three albums. Mike: With that question, we could all go on for hours talking about bands. What are your top three at the moment?

I am a die-hard Nervosa fan. Then it would be the Butcher Babies, they are a great live band. The third one is tough, it changes. Last year it was Jinjer. I should go with my all-time favorite and that is Iron Maiden, because I came into Metal with Iron Maiden and that will stay forever. My question had a reason. I noticed that among all your favorite bands and albums, there was nothing from Australia. Let us talk about Australian Metal. Beside AC/DC, there is Mortal Sin, Thy Art Is Murder, Voyager, Parkway Drive, and perhaps a few others that are known outside Australia. What makes it so difficult for Australian Metal bands to conquer the world?

Zac: I think you will be surprised about the amount of bands that we have here. It is ridiculous. There are 1000s of bands, especially Metal bands. At every gig we do, we always play with someone new. There is a small amount of bands with bigger size and higher profile, but overall the amount of bands we have here is massive. I think there are more bands than fans actually. Just to name a few of them, there is Harlott, Desecrator, Dominion, and Sadistik Exekution. All those bands have actually developed quite a good following over here. One of the problems with being in Australia is that it is hard to get your stuff out of the country.

Mike: There are bands coming out from all areas of the woodwork everywhere. For example did you hear about Hidden Intent? We were actually in Germany in 2019 at the Headbangers Ball in Wacken and hanging out with them and Espionage. There are always new bands coming out. However, as you said, they are not so much noticed in abroad, maybe they just need to get off their asses and promote themselves a bit more.

Shane: I think it is a bit more underground here and unless some of them get picked up by a big label or a big distribution company, they are unheard of. I think it is going to be more coverage now with the internet and that is floating around. There is a big difference I have seen during the last five to ten years, there are loads of bands all over in Australia, and finally, they are easy to access now. There is a lot of good talent over here.

How big is the Australian Metal scene? Is there sufficient support from fans and public especially for young Metal bands?

Zac: The Metal scene is not very big, especially in Sydney. I am going to stick with Sydney because that is where we are from. It is not very big, but the fan base is very strong and loyal. We have got our little Metal network in Sydney and the people who follow local Metal are heavily involved in this. So in my opinion, one fan that comes to a gig is worth two, because they are very loyal to it. They hold it in high regard. In Melbourne, the Metal scene is significantly bigger, but I think Sydney is just more loyal.

Do especially young Metal bands have sufficient opportunities to play live at venues or festivals?

Shane: There are not too many festivals for our sort of music, there are more festivals for mainstream music.

Zac: There is only the Blacken Open Air festival at the moment….

Mike: As for open air festivals there is only the one that Zac just mentioned: the Blacken Open Air in the Northern Territory and that happens every Easter weekend. It is not like in Germany with the big open air festivals or even the smaller open air festivals like Keep It True or Headbangers Open Air. Unfortunately, we do not have any of that yet, I like saying yet because I want to see it happen. We have a lot of festivals at pubs. Sometimes there will be a two day festival of our good friend Dave Balfour. He puts on a festival every year in November called Steel Assassins festival. In 2019, we were one of the first Death Metal bands he ever put on the bill. It was usually more a Thrash and traditional Metal festival, but he is starting to open up to Death Metal, which is awesome. As for the topic of younger bands getting exposure, it is hard for younger bands to get out there and get seen. You have really got to put in a hard shift yourself in Australia and really promote yourselves. Basically you just got to get in with the bigger bands, you have got to ask the big bands to open up a show for them. You just need to have that confidence to promote yourself.

How do you do all the promotion? You are with Bitter Loss Records at the moment, so the distribution should be ok, what about all the other stuff?

Shane: Bitter Loss is helping out a lot with that, they send their different things to different reviewers and distributors. Before that, we would just do it ourselves as a band, just send everything to anyone, knocking on doors, and just do not stop knocking on doors, really. Even now with Bitter Loss, we are not stopping this like me and Mike doing a lot. We constantly do stuff behind the scenes always.

Mike: When we were looking for a label, I was constantly emailing labels over and over, every day. I would have sent probably over 100 emails to 100 different labels. You have just got to keep at it, keep working and keep promoting yourself. Eventually you will be heard.

Shane: I think it was hard for a while because we were not heard of by a lot of labels, they would not get back to us, or they would hear the Swedish sound and think we are another Swedish cover band. It did take a while until a few of them got aware of us. It is all about constantly knocking on doors.

After the release of “Within Death”, what are your plans for the next months and what can we expect from The Plague in the near future?

Shane: Depending on if they allow travel in from overseas, we support Sacred Reich and Vio-lence at the end of the year. Let us see what happens with that. We then plan a tour which starts in about three weeks up and down the coast. With the pandemic, we already begun songwriting for the next album and I have done about three songs.

Zac: We have already practiced one. We have one song which is three quarters written for the next album, so we are up and running already. We have not finished doing everything for the current album but Shane is an eager beaver.

Mike: We want to keep the wheels in motion. Shane: We recorded this album in December 2019 and it has taken so long to get out. The EP was released in 2017. That is a long time between releases. I have already started writing music because I do not want it to take another two or three years. We are trying to write songs for the next album and record that towards the end of next year, and then maybe release it in the following January. Mike: We definitely want to keep the fans engaged.

Is there anything you would like to tell to your fans or the readers of Metal Temple magazine?

Zac: Bring us to Germany, we love it there. Shane: Yeah, one day we would like to get to Europe. It is a lot easier to go through from one country to another. In Australia, it is very different, our closest cities are Brisbane and Melbourne, which is a 10 hour drive. We would like to get to Europe and do at least six cities. That would be great.

Mike: Something I would like to say to the Metal Temple readers: Stay true! Stay Metal! Drink beer and bang your fucking head!

What an epic final word! It was a great honor to perform this interview with you for Metal Temple magazine. I really enjoyed it talking to you. Thank you very much.

Everyone: Thank you!



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Edited 24 September 2021
 

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