Article & Interview by Jenna Williams ‘The Scream Queen’. Photography by Hugo Jaurez.
Jadran ‘Conan’ Gonzalez, who is the vocalist and guitarist, began playing in Exmortus when he was only 12 years old. He and his cousin Mario started Exmortus with their friends in middle school. “We didn’t know what we were doing, we still don’t know what we’re doing. Our real start was probably with our first album in 2008, we were fresh out of high school when that came out. We were very young and a lot of angst. You can hear it in the album, in the old recording, really fast and immature.”
The two grew up watching Evil Dead movies, which is how the Exmortus name came to Life, naming the band after one of the sayings in Evil Dead 2 that can be seen at the beginning of the prologue talking about the Book of the Dead, Necronomicon Ex Mortis. “Whenever we wrote songs, we kind of wanted that [Evil Dead] vibe. I don’t think we actually had an Evil Dead song, something directly inspired by that. When we wrote the EP, The Legions of the Undead, we had a song finally about the Evil Dead called Swallow Your Soul.
That one definitely took me back to me and my cousin just watching these movies as kids because our parents wouldn’t let us watch it, so we’d put it on, see this crazy-violent Horror movie. It took me back to hanging out with my cousin, me and him and I obviously share an intimate relationship with this band, even though he’s not in the band anymore, he left several years ago. He’s very much responsible for the success of this band. It was really good memories writing the song and recording it.”
Now the California-Native band is comprised of bassist Phillip Nunez, guitarist Chase Becker, drummer Adrian Aguilar, alongside Conan. They released their sixth full-length album titled Necrophony through Nuclear Blast Records on August 25th of 2023. The album Art for Necrophony, which means Symphony of the Dead, was envisioned by Toha Mashudi, who also created the Art for their 2019 EP, Legions of the Undead.
“Our album are usually having some barbarian dude fight. This time is a little more reflective of the title of a Symphony of the Dead. We had him pretty much draw four zombie dudes performing in an orchestra or a mini ensemble and it’s funny because there’s four of them, there’s four of us. I think he did that on purpose. Didn’t tell him to do that.”
Exmortus explored and emphasized darker harmonies, melodic structures, and lyrics for Necrophony, as the theme for most of the songs deals with Death in different ways beyond the physical body. They wrote the album during the pandemic as they were all feeling a deep depression, while making an effort to bring themselves out of it and find their purpose again, getting into a more positive mindset. “The album kind of deals with these concepts, very much a darker side to our usual sound.”
The band had a lot of fun shooting their Music video for Mind of Metal. The song is inspired by Lord of the Rings, after Adrian watched the movies, and wanted to name a song “Mind of Metal”, something that the character Treebeard says about Saruman. For the video, they went to director, Lenny Vitulli, who also directed The Black Hand Reaches Out by Warbringer. “He had a really solid vision of what he wanted to do. He wanted to get medieval swords and armor. I was like, ‘I know just the guy!’. Conan called up his friend, JP, who he used to play Dungeons and Dragons with back in high school, who also played the sorcerer-blacksmith character in the video, based off of Saruman.
“JP had all this shit. He’s also a blacksmith, so he had all the blacksmith tools and the anvil. All of that was actually his. He brought them up and Lenny was blown away by that. Because of that he was really inspired and all of us had a blast getting together, coming up with how we’re going to do the story segment in the video. With a song title, Mind of Metal, it’s already going to be your nerdy-cheesy kind of vibe. I think it came out great.”
Conan always wanted to do a story piece based off of Edgar Allan Poe and chose to revision The Masque of Red Death into two songs, the elaborate and symphonic instrumental track that opens the album, and follows into the song, The Mask of Red Death. The Edgar Allan Poe story is about isolation and not being able to escape Death because it’s inevitable. That was a sentiment they all felt, especially as everyone was wearing masks. “I thought this was a perfect reflection of the time with a lot of those symbols. It felt right to write a song about that. It puts you into how we all felt at the time of the beginning of the pandemic and how we were trying to get ourselves out of these feelings. That whole isolation and dark thoughts, the inevitability of Death is a scary thought. Edgar Allan Poe captures this in his writings, very intimately in a way. We wanted to do that Musically.”
Chase wrote the riffs for Prophecy. At the time Conan was writing another riff for Mind of Metal, which is similar to the riff, as he likes to write riffs that are related to each other throughout the album, so that they are like sister songs to keep some sort of cohesion for the album. The attitude of the Prophecy riff is more on the Rock ‘n Roll spectrum encapsulating an old-school 80’s arena Rock anthem for the song.
Children of the Night is inspired by classic Horror movies, in particular, Dracula. It was inspired by the line, “listen to them, the children of the night, what Music they make.” The song is about what happens in his Transylvanian castle, “he lures helpless victims into his lair and pretty much turns them into beasts. That’s implied in the story, that he turns people to the undead. There’s a couple of songs that have that attitude or theme in the album, but this one is more relishing in the fact that you are becoming a creature of the night, and you’re relishing in the bloodlust that you feel, because that’s what Dracula would feel at times. There are other songs that are on the negative aspect of immortality and whatnot, and that’s the title track. That one is more of a lonely reflection of immortality and stuff like that.”
They close the album with a cover song of Moonchild by Iron Maiden from their Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album. The vocalist who performs is Chris, who is in a band called Fortress. “That album is very much their darker album during the 80’s and we felt it was a cool time to do an Iron Maiden cover from the dark side, for this album, because this is pretty much our darkest work yet.”