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Mortification

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Christian heavy metal has seen bands come and go. It's as natural as the cycle of the seasons: Plants grow in the spring time, blossom and wither when winter gets near. But amidst all those bands there's one band that's been going on for many years and has become a household word now: Mortification. And quite an outspoken band too. Art For The Ears met the band on their 2001 World Tour at their stop in Zeist, Holland.

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Discography: Mortification (1991), Scrolls Of The Megilloth (1992), Post Momentary Affliction (1993), Live Planetarium (1993), Break The Curse (1994), Blood World (1994), Primitive Rhythm Machine (1995), Envision Evangelene (1996), Noah Sat Down And Listened To The Mortification Live EP While Having A Coffee (1996), Live Without Fear (1996) , Triumph Of Mercy (1998), Hammer Of God (1999), 20 Years Live Not Dead (2000), The Silver Cord Is Severed (2001). Available through: Rowe Productions & Nuclear Blast. Official website: Rowe Productions. Interview by: mpo. Date: June 30th 2001.

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Mortification. FLTR: Steve, Adam, Lincoln

Steve, just some months ago Mortification released its latest studio album called The Silver Cord Is Severed. What do you think of the album?

Steve: Well, I think it's a natural progression from what we've done before. I like each album to have an individual sound and I think each album does. Of course, we've got thrash and death metal and grindcore and classic metal influences. And now with Adam in the band we have a little modern feel to it. So, we're very happy with how it turned out. And we've got some really great ideas we're working on at this moment which combine older Mortification stuff with the new, The Silver Cord Is Severed, because Adam is very interested in the older music and can play it well while Keith (Bannister, previous Mortification drummer) struggled with a lot of it.

Was the production of this album different than the other albums? Maybe because it was the second time in the Hammer Of God studio. Perhaps the first time it was new to do it in your own studio. Was it different to produce this album?

Steve: We used a lot of keyboards on the Hammer Of God album. And we're looking at getting a keyboard player. Silver Cord is more of a guitar album. They are all guitar albums but we had a lot of keyboards on Hammer Of God. So, The Silver Cord Is Severed is different. All the interesting melodies and things are created by the guitars rather than bringing the other keyboard element in.

The music on the new album is indeed different compared to the other albums. To my idea it's a little bit more groovy. More of a ragged playing compared to Hammer Of God. Is that also kind of the direction you want to go?

Steve: Uh, not really. We worked hard on making it polished and produced. We tend to use very processed sounds. You know, Adam played the drum kit, but we used the triggered sounds in the protools so he's playing triggers which give that really clinical death metal sort of sound. And I like that. And Nuclear Blast really likes the processed sounds. So, I think going in the processed sound direction is a good one.

I mean the riffs, how the riffs sound like. It's maybe a little more brutal than the previous album which was more along the lines of classic metal and the new one has more of a modern feel to it. A little bit groovier, the riffs.

Steve: I think the groove and the brutality that's different than on Hammer Of God comes from Adam's drumming. Keith was a lot more straight forward. So, I guess, Hammer Of God and Envision Evangelene and Triumph Of Mercy are a lot more classic metal 'cause Keith was a very straight forward drummer where as Adam is doing a lot of complicated kick work and rhythmic tom playing. So, I think that's where the extra aggression and brutality is coming in, in the drumming department.

The Silver Cord Is Severed cover

Personally I think about the cover that it's quite simple and, to be honest, a little bit boring. It's quite different from the covers done by Troy Dunmire who did the Triumph Of Mercy album. Why such a cover? What is the idea behind it? It's only a few strings painted.

Steve: We wanted to have a very simple image that meant something. We have a couple of strong meanings to it. But I find it boring when bands in the extreme heavy metal have exactly the same music on every album, exactly the same covers. So, it's pretty boring. So, if you're into reinventing yourself then it's not a problem to take a risk. And we just wanted a simple image that made a statement. What The Silver Cord Is Severed is, it's taken from Ecclesiastes chapter twelve where king Solomon talks about remembering God in the days of your youth before the silver cord is severed and the golden bowl is broken. And I of course went through Leukaemia. And I have spinal damage. I'm motor paralysed. Motor paralysed is the same as paralysed except you have full sensory. So, a lot of motor paralysed can walk. And, I can walk. And I guess it's good that I'm motor paralysed from the waist end. Some people can be motor paralysed on one side which means they can't walk. So, I was thinking when I was reading Ecclesiastes, that if I got sick during my teenage years.... You know, I was still following God with my heart then, but I wasn't sort of living the life. I wasn't really remembering God in the days of my youth. When I got sick at 31 I already spent twelve years in this music ministry doing Christian heavy metal. So, I think that was an important message to fans and to young people to remember God in the days of their youth. Because, I nearly died of spinal damage and brain damage which theologians will say is the silver cord and the golden bowl in Ecclesiastes. After I had the bone marrow transplant for leukaemia in 1997, the cancer came back in my spine and my brain. And I was given a couple of hours to live, so that was an interesting concept. We needed, I thought, a simple image to portray that. We were actually going to spell cord as chord as in a guitar chord. But we decided to spell it as it was in the Bible to make it totally Biblically correct. But obviously it shows the strings of a bass guitar. The Steinbecker that I play is kind of a logo or a mascot of the band and it's a sign that Mortification uses Steinbeckers. And I wanted to feature that on the cover. But the strings are cut in half and the bass cleft is a knife so that also portrays the name Mortification which means 'dying to self'. So, in other words, okay we strive for musical excellence but don't really look at us. We tried to have no image, and having no image is actually having an image. So, if you have a straight level image, it's still an image. But we tried focussing prominently on the lyrics and the message of Jesus Christ. So, the cover has a strong double meaning there, but we thought a simple image was the best way to do it. I wanted to do something that was unique. Some people love it, some people hate it. I mean, you obviously don't like it. But the record company raved about it. They said "it's great!". Because bands on Nuclear Blast that are doing well are experimenting. Bands like Therion and Hypocrisy. They are doing covers which are different. The early Therion covers were very classic metal and then they started using computer images like a simple monster head. And Hypocrisy has done similar things. So, Nuclear Blast want their bands to be progressive and innovative.

The new album features the drumming of Adam Zaffarese. Adam, how do you like playing in the band?

Adam: Oh, it's pretty fun. I like more of the old stuff. But, you know, it's good playing in the band with Steve and Lincoln. Like Steve likes more the stone age kinda music (laughs), and me and Lincoln are more up to date a bit. But when we all combine it, it sounds pretty cool. And that's why I like it.

When I first saw your picture on the Rowe Productions site, I thought to myself, this guy looks like he's into hardcore and what is he doing in a metal band? Do you feel at home in Mortification, the sound of the music?

Adam: Yeah, well after a year and a half I've kinda fit in with all the music an stuff. So, yeah. It's like a big family. Like Steve's my dad and Lincoln is my brother and mom (laughs)

What you already said, "he's like my dad". He could have been your dad. Isn't that quite weird?

Adam: Yeah, well, I just didn't think of it then that he could have been my dad.

Steve (joking): If he would have been my kid he would have been better looking!

Adam: I'm not sure about that! (laughs)

Lincoln, I noticed that you wrote two songs on the new album, The Silver Cord Is Severed. Is that what you would like to explore more on future albums? Your musical possibilities and abilities.

Lincoln: Yeah, I like writing songs. Whenever I come up with something I think is good enough to put together for a song, then I'll show Steve and play it. Yeah, I like writing. On this new album we're doing a bit of writing together as a group, just jamming on riffs and things. And I think that'll be good as well 'cause it will be really tight together between the three of us. It's not just one person's idea, or someone learning a song to the others. We're working on it together from scratch. That's cool too.

Last time we spoke, two years ago, you spoke that you were also involved with two other bands, Callous and Day Of Atonement. Are you still doing that or not anymore.

Lincoln: No, not really. Day Of Atonement isn't doing anything. The singer lives in another city hundreds of miles away. And Callous is probably finishing up at the moment. So, we won't be doing anything with those guys probably.

Is Mortification the only band you can put your own creativity into?

Lincoln: Yeah, at the moment anyway, because I don't have much time. Because of teaching and things. Because I've finished college and started teaching little kids at primary school. And doing that full time as well as being married now, I sort of don't have much time to throw around. So, Mortification doesn't take that much time which is good. And it takes a bit of time and effort to make one rehearsal for another band, so it's a bit of a pain at the moment. So, maybe later.

Something else now. Steve, Mortification is known for its Christian message. Do you consider your band as a ministry?

Steve: Yes, certainly. That's what it is.

Can you describe what this means in your case?

Steve: It's a ministry not only to non-Christians but also to Christians. We have a very large Christian audience. Let's say the majority of our audience are Christians. As was the case with me as a teenager and people who are older as well, if you are in the church and you don't look right and you don't listen to the right music, often you're a little bit on the edge. Especially kids in youth groups. Like, there are a lot of expectations in churches to have the right attitude and to look right, you know. Metal is kind of an incorrect thing, and my message to the Christian kids is: If you serve your church and your pastor, look beyond the way that you look and what you listen to and maybe they will think: "Oh, maybe what they're into is good." I know we've had a major effect on a lot of kids, helping them to be more functional in their walk with Christ and in this serving of this church and not having that black sheep of the church type of image. Like some kids like to have and they sort of thrive on it because everybody throws it at them. But when they see them being functional in the church, or more functional than the other kids, they may think: "Wow, maybe what they're into is good." As far as evangelism goes, I mean, the message is straight forward to the non-Christians. We just toured South Africa and there's a guy in Capetown and he bought our CD in the store 'cause he thought it looked cool and sounded cool. And when he got home he realized it was different because it was a Christian album. As he read the lyrics just when the songs went through, then we have on that album the salvation prayer, and he prayed that prayer. He just felt in his heart that he should do it and it says "check into your local bible believing church". I don't know any other Christian band that does that. And he rang up to the local Baptist church and said: "Are you a Bible believing church?" And they said: "Yes, we are." And he said "okay." And he went along (at the Mortification concert) and said "I want to thank you because I've been a full born again Christian for one year and it's the greatest change in my life that ever happened. And that was from buying a CD.

When you look at Mortification, most concerts it seems that the majority of the people who show up are Christians. Is that also something you've got in mind that you aim your lyrics more at Christians nowadays?

Steve: No, no, it's definitely a double. Fifty fifty. The lyrics are very evangelistic. They also deal with issues that everybody faces today. Like my aim for this tour is to focus on drugs and the destruction of drugs upon people. Because I've been a medical drug addict to go through leukaemia. So, I know what it's like. I can relate to a heroin addict because I was a medical heroin addict. The first time you have it, it's beautiful but fifteen months later it bites like a snake and it nearly kills you. And straight heroin is a terrible way to go. And also on suicide... Obviously fighting so hard for life that I have with the leukaemia and all the complications, suicide is something that's a tragedy amongst young people with the pressures on them. And I had a lot of pressures on me as a teenager. And the sort of pressures that may lead some people to take their lives, but I was always able to overcome that with my faith in Christ. So, anything that I can say, can help someone to have a closer walk with God and have a better feeling and be themselves. And there's nothing worse walking around on Earth and feeling inadequate, that you have nothing to offer. To achieve what we have, touring the world from Australia as a Christian heavy metal band, is really a miracle in itself, I think. So, given that opportunity, feel the need to take the maximum opportunity to help people as best as I can. And people really love this band. I don't know what it is. I mean, there's plenty of alternative Christian bands around the world. But our fan base is not enormous but the people who are into us, they have this real special love for the band and it means so much to them. To some people, it's the most important thing in their life almost. So, we have a responsibility to not disappoint them with what we do.

You spoke already about you being on drugs because of your illness. And you being a teenager and not really living for God and finally changing. Because you can relate to people, is that why you feel the need to share that with people and encourage them? Do you think that's the main factor?

Steve: I think that if you can relate to someone realistically because you've been there.... I mean, I can relate to a drug addict because I've been a medical one. I can relate to someone that's had cancer 'cause I've had cancer. I can relate to people in a lot of different issues because I've been there. And that's a good position to be in. I mean, suffering and pain are horrible things. But Paul talks about sharing in the suffering of Christ, and you don't often hear preachers talking about that. But, Christians suffer. Bad things happen to good people. Who knows why. But if my suffering can help somebody else, then it's worthwhile.

What do you think of the current position of Christian hard music bands as it comes to being a ministry? Do you think they are frank enough about the message? What do you think of their stance whether they are a ministry or not? What do you think of the current hard music bands?

Steve: I think the current state of Christian hard music is pathetic. I think that it's whitewashed. It's watered down. People wanna play music as a career and make all their money at Christian kids, especially in America where it's really wishy-washy. And I think it's pathetic, most of it.

What bands give you hope? Bands that you look at and feel they have the same sort of vision of a ministry?

Steve: Band that are happening right now? None.

Not a band like Ultimatum, to name something.

Steve: But they are not doing anything.

They have a new album out.

Steve: They are not doing anything. They don't tour. Ministry bands that are touring actively and recording actively. We toured as Lightforce with Whitecross. And I saw Scott Wenzel (the singer for Whitecross) lead fifty, sixty kids to the Lord. We played with Stryper and saw their Jesus music and things like that. So, bands were actively involved in building up Christians and preaching to the unconverted. I don't see anybody doing that anymore. Except a band like Disciple. So they are the only band I can think of now.

(laughing) I'm glad you've found another band!

Steve: And obviously Tourniquet is incredible but they don't do a great deal of touring and things. So, bands actively involved in semi full time ministry would be great.

Something else now. How is your health nowadays?

Steve: It's very good. I'm motor paralysed. So, that's difficult. But, I can walk so that's cool.

In February you had surgery on one of your eyes.

Steve: On my right eye. From the radiation. I've got about 50% vision now, so that's good. And I have kidney problems, heart problems. But it is all controllable, maintainable.

Two years ago you were also talking about those physical problems, about your kidneys and stuff like that. Is there progress?

Steve: It's the same. There's forty percent kidney functioning.

For years you've been talking about your illness, your leukaemia. And now your physical problems that evolve from it. Do people respond like "Oh, here is he again, he's talking about his illness again." Is it difficult for you to share it or are people still...

Steve: I'm not talking much about my illness anymore, 'cause I sort of done that. Unless people specifically ask, like last night in Kassel. We had sort of a forum. And they wanted me to talk about my life, so obviously I talked about my illness. But it's not really part of what we're doing on this tour. It's a different emphasis.

You get that sort of responses from people who say: "Oh, here is Steve again with the same old story?"

Steve: No, 'cause I don't tell it.

Okay, right now you're on the Mortification world tour but I've heard that it's the final tour, the last tour. Is that correct?

Steve: No. Whoever told you that?

I've heard that it was on the Rowe Productions website. Even tonight someone told me.

Steve: No, it's not true at all.

The final tour for this year...

Steve: Oh, yeah! But we're touring the world. And then we'll go back home. We've got a festival to do in Mellbourne and then we'll be recording again early next year.

I'm told that you need to record and tour because of your illness to pay the bills.

Steve: Oh, the music is obviously a career as well as a ministry. Not so much Mortification but also Rowe Productions, my label. All my medical expenses are paid for by the Australian government. So, that's no problem. But I take a lot of natural medicines and that's where the expense comes from, in alternative medicines. That's very expensive. And I take a lot of antioxygen, multi-vitamins and such. A whole bunch of natural products which amount to 200-300 dollar a month for all the alternative medicines and programmes I do, which in a lot of ways are better than the western way to go.

And you're on tour right now. Is it hard to be on tour? Because normally people on tour get bad food, junk food, without as much vitamins in it as should be. Is that a problem you face?

Steve: I've got all the vitamins with me. So, we have a ride for the food that we don't get junk food. We had some junk food last night and that's the first we've had in three weeks. So, we had meals cooked for us and things like that, which is important to keep healthy on tour. 'Cause you can get sick very quick if you eat junk food all the time. So I'm dreading going to America because they don't know what healthy food is (laughs).

Okay, and how is the tour going now? You've already been to South Africa for the first time and you've been to Germany, Switzerland. How's it going?

Steve: The tour is going fantastic. The very first show was in Johannesburg, in South Africa. And we had 1,000 people. And the club was pretty amazed that many people came. So, they called the television station and they came in and video taped the show and interviewed us. And they interviewed some people from the crowd. And we were talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how it combines with heavy metal music. And that was shown on the six o'clock news, the national news, across South Africa the next night to ten million people. So, you don't even have to play to people who like heavy metal. If you take steps of faith you can reach a lot of people with the gospel. And South Africa was great. It was a good experience. Very different country. Dangerous. Lot of crime, lot of unemployment. So, that was interesting. And Europe so far has been fantastic. Tonight is our last concert with Mortification who we've toured with in Switzerland, Germany and now here in Holland. And then we're having four days off and then we go to Norway for the Seaside Festival next weekend. Then to America for ten shows. Then Mexico city, to Costa Rica, to Chile, one in Argentina and four in Brazil.

Like you said, you're going to Scandinavia, then to the US and then to the Latin American countries. Is there one specific show you're looking forward to or is it all okay?

Steve: I think Sao Paulo in Brazil. It will be huge. We have a huge following in Brazil. We've never been there. And, they're expecting to sell 3,500 tickets for the Sao Paulo show. And about 3,000 for the Rio show. We could be playing for as many as 10,000 in the four shows in Brazil. Which will be cool. 'Cause an average crowd in Europe is 300 for us. And an average crowd in America is about 200. But we'll be doing three festivals in America so that will be more like one or two thousand. And the Seaside Festival in Norway will be four or five thousand.

I have only one last question. How will the future of Mortification look like? What are the plans you have?

Steve: We've planned to record an album that's a combination of Post Momentary Affliction, which was the 1993 album, and The Silver Cord Is Severed. Because Adam is twenty years younger than I am, and he's very interested in the old stuff. Keith was a more straight forward drummer and he had some difficulties with pleasing the crowd by playing the old stuff. But tonight we're playing songs from all ten albums. And we're playing a lot of the old stuff. And Adam's handling the old stuff well. So I think we'll combine Post Momentary Affliction with Silver Cord, somewhere in the middle. And I think it will be an album that will be unique. And probably a little more extreme than The Silver Cord Is Severed.

When might we see you back again in Europe? Two years from now?

Steve: Yeah, two years. We're on a two year turntable at this moment.

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