Full Speed Metal
by Chris Morin
November 7, 2014
It’s been 15 years since brothers Matt and Murray Cuthbertson first formed Untimely Demise. Originally a punk band that had cultivated a small-but-enthusiastic audience in Saskatoon’s all ages scene, the group has since weathered several lineup changes and morphed into a powerful and complex thrash metal group that has toured across Canada several times over.
It’s a sound that has taken them halfway around the world.
On their most recent excursion, Untimely Demise visited several countries in Europe, including Germany and England – an experience that bassist Murray says has helped the band capitalize on their growing buzz and their signing to Italian metal record label Punishment 18.
“Most of the shows were sold out. And that’s what you want on tour – it definitely exceeded our expectations,” he explains. “In Germany we played with Lay Down Rotten and Massacre [a Florida group with members that played in bands like Death and Obituary]. When you have the guys who pretty much invented death metal invite you on a tour, well, that’s an honour right there,” he adds.
“The guys from Massacre were all really nice, and were on the phone with their kids every chance they got. They knew that we didn’t have a lot of money so they would get a bunch of stuff on their riders so they could share with us.”
Flying out to Europe, Untimely Demise met up with the other bands on tour and immediately got to work wowing audiences. Playing high profile festivals like ‘Kin Hell Fest in Leeds UK, the group began seeing multiple good reviews.
Murray recalls, “The crowds were really receptive. When people get what you are doing musically right off the bat, it’s really gratifying. For years we were trying to find our sound, and it’s always a challenge to find the people who are going to get that sound.”
“For me, Germany was the highlight,” adds Matt. “In Hamburg we played this crazy bar that looked like it could have been a World War II-era bunker from back in the day. The front and back door were jackhammered out. And people were packed in like sardines.
“That first night in Germany was amazing, even beyond playing shows,” he continues. “Like when we were crossing The Rhine – it was all so surreal.”
While the tour was chalked up as a success by the band, getting to Europe has been a long time coming for Untimely Demise, going back as far as 2009 when the group first started negotiations with their Italian record label, Punishment 18, following the release of their “Full Speed Metal” EP.
“We wanted to get a North American label first, which we did [Sonic Unyon], and we signed with Punishment 18 a few years later,” says Murray. “Even though they are smaller, they really work with their artists to make sure they succeed. To me that’s the most important part of being on a label.”
But it wasn’t just the label that gave them the extra push. Murray says that it’s been a combination of meeting the right people and getting to play with the right bands that has brought them to the point where they can now tour internationally.
“We had wanted to get to Europe for a long time, and then Creative Saskatchewan came along at the right time and helped us out with some grant money,” says Murray.
“It’s new territory – we don’t have a booking agent there. So you have to have your fingers crossed a lot of the time. Luckily, we had played with Massacre in Calgary and Edmonton in 2012. When we met them there we had started those personal and professional relationships. Our legal counsel had talked to Massacre later on and it went to their agency, and we got approval. You have to have those connections and you need to have a foot in the door.”
Under a sonic microscope
While the band has been finding success overseas, it hasn’t exactly been an easy road for the Cuthbertson brothers. It has taken years for Untimely Demise to fine-tune their sound, both in the studio and on the stage.
When they first formed in 1999, the group played with local punk and hardcore bands, splitting their time between all ages venues and bars. But they were already setting themselves apart from their peers by incorporating complex guitar solos into their songwriting. A young band still trying to figure themselves out, after releasing one full-length album and one EP, that group eventually split due to differing opinions on their direction.
Despite the setback, the brothers kept playing together, writing new material and developing a more intricate style of songwriting. Untimely Demise was reborn in 2006 as a thrash band.
Heading into the studio, they emerged with the four-song EP “Full Speed Metal,” which saw them fully embracing the genre. This change in direction, along with a newfound enthusiasm for playing live, got them noticed by Tim Potocic, President of Sonic Unyon Records, an Ontario label known for its wildly diverse roster of artists. The group also began playing bigger shows with touring metal artists such as 3 Inches Of Blood, Into Eternity, and Toxic Holocaust.
Finally, it was time for them to start working on their next full-length album. In addition to garnering buzz from review blogs and magazines, Murray notes there was added pressure to perform when the band was hooked up in the studio with one of their heroes, Glen Drover, a producer and guitarist best known for playing in the likes of Iron Maiden and King Diamond. Fortunately, the band and Drover immediately hit it off, and Untimely Demise found in him a mentor to help guide their recordings.
“Glen was so stoked on the songs that we brought to him that he volunteered to lay down solos . You don’t get that kind of shot-in-the-arm working with someone that is just a typical engineer,” says Murray. “His ear also bolstered us in the studio, because if something wasn’t working he could quickly recommend a suitable revision – didn’t happen lots, but it is nice not to hit a brick wall when you are under a sonic microscope.”
Touted for its merging of thrash and death metal guitar riffs, along with an increasingly bludgeoning rhythm section, “City of Steel” won over fans and reviewers alike. The band got a boost in their home province after securing a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board.
“The first grants we got definitely helped us put out City of Steel, which ended up being a great album,” says Matt. “It was what got us signed to Sonic Unyon, and it got nominated for a Sirius XM Canadian Independent Music Award [for Metal Group of the Year in 2012]. I can’t imagine that happening without us getting those initial grants.”
The Sirius XM nomination also introduced them to more international markets, as the album started selling in Japan and Europe.
Untimely Demise pressed ahead with more local shows and touring, which saw them expand to markets in eastern Canada, and eventually return to the studio to reunite with Drover for sessions which would ultimately make up their latest full-length album, “Systematic Eradication.”
Making the trip to record with Drover in his Toronto-based Eclipse Studios, Murray says that the band was willing to sacrifice to record with Drover because, “It was important to have someone that understood what thrash metal production is supposed to sound like.” Similarly, Drover is known throughout the metal community as an amazing guitar player, well-versed not only in metal but also in jazz, classical, and ’70s prog-rock. And his having played with Megadeth lends a boost to Untimely Demise’s own credentials.
“Aside from all of his professional and technical assistance, we [always] have a blast hanging with Glen – every studio day ends with visits to a local pub or patio, where we talk about music, tour stories, the philosophy of music, and just the nuances of everyday life,” says Murray. “It is refreshing to see one of your musical idols be such a down-to-earth cool dude in real life.”
And when the band hits the studio, Drover is able to guide them in how best to capture both a live energy as well as to showcase the group’s growing technical prowess. Using the time to experiment, Matt plays roughly half of his solos on the fly, freestyling intuitively – a style of playing he credits from endless practicing and time spent on the road.
Featuring eight blazing songs, Systematic Eradication clocks in at just over half an hour and opens with lead single “Spiritual Embezzlement” – a song that immediately opens with an impressive solo before ripping into a riff-heavy verse.
While the majority of the songs on Systematic Eradication are largely in the vein of thrash metal, the group makes a conscious effort to add elements from other genres into the mix. For example, “The Last Guildsman” combines clean melodic guitar breakdowns with death metal interludes, along with progressive harmonized thrash parts.
As songwriters, the duo would often get mired in meticulous nuances when it came to crafting the perfect song, says Murray. But this attention to detail has paid off.
“I think the little things like that make a better album because it is primarily composed like classical music, but it preserves the jazz, metal and punk edge that makes music exciting to listen to in a recorded and live environment,” says Murray.
Just as Drover was wrapping up the album’s recording sessions, Untimely Demise experienced another lineup change, as the Cuthbertsons parted ways with long-time drummer Scott Cross. While it is an initial setback, especially as the band has begun to gain momentum with shows across Canada, the brothers have been forced to re-examine their sound. They’ve decided to expand their lineup with the addition of Sam Martz on guitars and Cory Thomas on drums, who has put in time with bands like Putrescence, among others.
The new lineup is the closest the band has ever been to making the live show sound like the albums, says Matt.
While their sound grows heavier with the addition of a second guitarist, both of the new members remain in Winnipeg, a challenge when it comes to scheduling regular practices. However, the Cuthbertsons see the distance as a means to make a new home base for the band outside of Saskatchewan.
“Since 2009 we have been touring Canada non-stop and played a lot of shows in Winnipeg. Their scene is huge and there are so many great bands for every sub-genre,” says Murray.
A few months after the band returned from their tour in Europe, Untimely Demise received a much-appreciated welcome home when they played the MetalWizard Open Air Festival in rural Saskatchewan. Playing alongside Regina’s Into Eternity, a death metal group who has toured with Megadeth, Lamb of God, Opeth and Dream Theatre, Matt says that it was the best homecoming concert the band could have hoped for.
“It was an amazing experience to come back to,” says the guitarist. “The super moon was up, there were ponies backstage, the weather was amazing. And after the show all the bands got to hang out with everyone afterwards.”
“We didn’t leave until noon the next day,” adds Murray. “Lots of hanging out and jumping on trampolines at 8 in the morning.”
Along with his own set with Untimely Demise, Matt joined Into Eternity for their headlining set. Now also a member of that band, Matt looks back on the experience and laughs, remembering how he had to soldier through two and a half straight hours of music.
“It was definitely a challenge,” he chuckles. “Into Eternity tends to play their songs in blocks. Whereas with Untimely Demise it is more relaxed.”
But it wasn’t just a local show for the group. It was a chance to share in a prairie festival that resembled the events they had just experienced overseas.
“The MetalWizard festival keeps growing every year,” says Murray. “We’d love to see more festivals like this across Canada, because it helps the scene get to a place where more metal bands can tour, like they can in Europe.”
As for the future, the band is currently writing new riffs, and is anxious to get the newest members of the band into the studio. As well, Untimely Demise is already looking forward to their next trip aboard, while acknowledging that relentless touring has always come with challenges for Saskatchewan bands of any genre.
“To tour, you are so far away from every major fan base,” says Murray. “You have to drive far enough to get to play those cities where you can pay the bills. Plus a lot of audiences don’t typically know of a lot of other Saskatchewan metal bands.”
“It would be great if there were more bands that we could play with – we tend to play with a lot of the same guys over and over,” adds Matt.
Murray admits that there is always plenty of work to do at home before looking elsewhere. In addition to lining up local shows and radio play, the band has spent over a decade crafting the songs that have earned them accolades from across the world.
“We had to get the good art in place, which meant getting that recording you are really going to be proud of,” says Murray. “Once we got those professional recordings with Glen Drover, along with the album artwork, and had them released internationally, we went to agencies like Creative Saskatchewan and SaskMusic and we could show them that as a portfolio along with the shows and tours.
“It was a lot of groundwork, but we had the resume and we wrote down our goals and articulated our vision. And the people on the other end responded and said they could help.”
“We have a unique situation where we have a couple of (band members) who don’t live in the province. But we aren’t complaining,” says Matt. “Whenever we are about to leave on tour all our friends and family and fans come out, the shows are always big. When you have that support at home, it’s a good feeling, and we don’t take it for granted.”
Just prior to press time, the band was pleased to annouce they’ll be playing support in November for the Western Canadian leg of the Death to All, Obituary and Massacre tour. Muray notes, “This represents a watershed moment for our band as we get to play with three of the seminal Death Metal groups that have (and continue to be) some of our strongest musical influences. The band cannot wait to share the stage with them and Rivers Of Nihl in Vancouver, Calgary, Regina and Edmonton, and are stoked to get to tour yet again with our brothers in Massacre (twice in the same year)!“
For upcoming tour dates, videos and more, visit the official band page at www.facebook.com/UntimelyDemiseMetal.
Originally published Summer 2014. This article is posted as initially published. For reprint/usage permission or any other questions, please contact SaskMusic.