If you’re like me and was thinking that a lot more people should be checking out CRIMINAL ELEMENT, based on the strength of albums like Guilty as Charged, believe me when I say that the Crime and Punishment Pt. 1 EP (Relapse Records) is about to blow things wide open for the death/grind/thrash act. Featuring ex-DYING FETUS vocalist Vince Matthew, bassist Mike Lilly, guitarist Daren Moris, guitarist Mark Kloeppel (MISERY INDEX), and drummer Adam Jarvis (MISERY INDEX), CRIMINAL ELEMENT is that rare band that can bring the metal with so much violence and force, yet make each song groovy and memorable, with nary a second wasted in the process. Vince Matthews phoned to give us a brief history lesson, break down the new EP, and proudly announce the great things yet to come from what had previously been a criminally underrated act.
MAA: It kind of seems like CRIMINAL ELEMENT has been operating under the radar these past several years. More recently, with the new EP the band has been getting more attention though.
Vince Matthews: The reason why is because when we started out it was basically a side band and it was meant to just be that where we weren’t even recording anything. We just wrote songs, me and an original guy Wayne Jones. When I moved up to New York and the guys from SUFFOCATION were there I kind of grew up with those guys pretty much, from the very beginning demo days. They used to come down and play D.C. a lot, so I got really close to them. When I showed ‘em these songs, Derek [Boyer] and Terrance [Hobbs] we just hit it out one night. It was still meant to be under the radar because I had a job and wasn’t interested in touring and those guys were already in SUFFOCATION. I guess we got a little success with Career Criminal and I read the reviews and thought “hey, those are just silly songs, so why not try to really write some good songs and see where I can go with it?” When you do that it usually takes a couple of years for it to come to the surface and people know who you are and I think that’s happening right now.
MAA: What about the Criminally Contaminated EP?
Vince Matthews: We demoed the first one and then Relapse put it out as a seven-inch. What happened with that was Emetic Records wanted to do a full-length or at least 25 minutes worth of music and we did that with Career Criminal. We did all the songs the songs we ever recorded and then wrote one or two new ones to go along with that. It got some good reviews and it got our name out there a little bit, but I think the stuff we were doing with that lineup was kind of sounding a lot like SUFFOCATION and I didn’t want that. So that’s when I left New York and came down and got with some of my friends in MISERY INDEX and DYING FETUS and got a couple guys that I grew up with basically. We started to write some serious songs and we did Guilty as Charged with Sevared Records and Lacerated Enemy Records and it ended up being that four different labels put out that EP. Then of course when Relapse saw that we weren’t just fucking around and were actually writing songs and getting good praise I think they figured they’d give it a shot.
MAA: It just seems natural that CRIMINAL ELEMENT would be on Relapse, both because of the sound and the members involved.
Vince Matthews: Yeah, I kind of figured it would. That was my ultimate goal because I trust the guys at Relapse and I’m very good friends with all of them. They will work with you if you show that you’re going to work with them and that’s what’s good about them. I’ve got a good relationship with those guys off the books and on the books. So it made total sense and I’m glad they did it with Crime and Punishment Pt. 1 because it would have been a little strange for another label to put a CD out with everybody that’s in bands on Relapse anyway [laughs].
MAA: I dug Guilty as Charged, but you really nailed it on Crime and Punishment Pt. 1. Of course you’re going to get some DYING FETUS and MISERY INDEX comparisons just because it’s still generally in that style. But it still sounds like CRIMINAL ELEMENT. There is the tightness and conciseness that MISERY INDEX at which excels and then there is a little of the old DYING FETUS groove, all of which is wrapped up into your own thing.
Vince Matthews: You’re 100 percent right. I love DYING FETUS and I love MISERY INDEX and the thing is that we all grew up writing songs for 20 years and we all have the same writing style. What I wanted to do was incorporate both of those bands, like little dashes of them because you’re never going to get away from that anyway.
MAA: And why not anyway when the reference points are two great bands?
Vince Mathews: Yeah, the main thing is that I’m 39 years and I grew up as a teenager in the mid-80s when the thrash scene exploded and that’s my roots and foundation, the whole death/thrash thing too from SLAYER to SODOM. We’ve got a lot of that in us and it’s not saying that we’re doing it to be old school. We are old [laughs]. We’re not deliberately trying to make it sound like that. It’s just that we wanted to throw in everything that we grew up listening to. Basically, CRIMINAL ELEMENT really is a tribute to metal over the last 25 years.
MAA: It’s definitely violent and groove-based; I’ll give you that man!
Vince Matthews: [Laughs] With a lot of death metal bands, all their violence is fictitious. Our stuff is all true stories.
MMA: I meant the lethality of the music as well.
Vince Matthews: Oh yeah, I appreciate that.
MMA: Well, there is death metal that is violent and then there is CRIMINAL ELEMENT and that shit is violent!
Vince Matthews: [Laughs] That’s killer, man! That’s why I do this, to hear folks say that they like and that’s what makes it fun. Above anything, if the band is having fun you’ll tell by the music and the songwriting.
MAA: It’s got an edge and it’s fresh. Every time I’d play the sample and the opening seconds of “Backstabber,” a song I played over and over on my commute to work, I’d immediately want to speed up and rear end the car in front of me.
Vince Matthews: [Laughs], yeah “Backstabber!” If you’ve seen The Dark Knight at the beginning of the movie and the school bus crashed into the bank and the Joker had a crew of 11 people. And somehow he had it where everyone was turning on each other and pissing each other off until there was one person left and the Joker ended up killing him. Everyone was backstabbing each other and that’s what “Backstabber” is about. The sample was from a friend of mine I call “The Warden,” Sean Bell. He’s a good friend of ours and everyone would hang out at his house and he’d have all this artillery. One night we were out there and I was videotaping him explaining everything about the guns. Everything was adlibbed and I thought it was cool and I thought it would fit at the beginning of the record. I wanted something to be catchy, but be straight to the point and in your face.
MAA: While we’re at it, give us the rundown on each of the next four tracks on the EP.
Vince Matthews: “Fake and a Fraud” is simply about Bernie Madoff and taking people’s life savings. You’d see it on TV all last year and he’s getting like a hundred and some years in prison. It says “Bernie’s gonna rot in jail in a cold cell on a hard floor.” That was a fucked up thing he did. There were a lot of people who trusted him with everything they earned and he totally ripped them off and everybody else. When you do that and you don’t come through, then you’re a fake and a fraud. So that’s where that came from.
“Crime and Punishment Pt. 1” is about a simple drug deal that goes bad and how it happens all the time. You get people who set up the deal and people who snitch you out and basically that’s what it’s about.
The song “Fading Survival” is a cover song from the band DECEASED. That was the actual first band that Relapse ever signed. There are a lot of people who really think that’s our song. You’re talking about a song that’s 20 years old. So maybe a few people will get it, but probably not many.
The last song, “Personal Demons,” is stuff that I’ve done through my life. There are personal demons that dwell within me and experience the things that I experienced. It talks about how it affects me. My life was, to say the least, an R rated movie and I’ve gone through a lot of things at an early age and I was out on my own when I was only 14. “Personal Demons” is how I’ve overcome a lot of the things that would bring me down. It talks about how I was locked up for half my life and was able to beat those things and let me start excelling at life.
MMA: What also makes this album go is all the cool little riff shifts and tempo changes, as well as the vocal changeups on “Personal Demons” in particular.
Vince Matthews: Well, I got Chris Yuastella (BLUDGEON, ETERNAL RUIN, ABOMINOG) on there and I’ve got Jason Netherton (MISERY INDEX, ex-DYING FETUS), and John Gallagher (DYING FETUS). It’s four vocalists on there. Chris from ETERNAL RUIN is a very cool guy and we go back 20 years. With CRIMINAL ELEMENT we like to bring back family. When you think of gangsters and mafia you think of family. So I’ve always wanted to bring John and Jason back together and I did it. They did that on Guilty as Charged too, so to bring them together after 10 years it’s a good feeling, For a while there were a lot of rumors going around, especially when Jason left DYING FETUS and I took over. This was just to let people know that we still love each and we still hang with each other and whatever happened in the past has been totally forgotten about. So to I figured you’ve got them singing together on a couple of records and they even did that on the new MISERY INDEX too. Put that on the books that I started this shit [laughs].
MMA: Is it a logical assumption then that the next CRIMIMAL ELEMENT release will be titled Crime and Punishment Pt. 2?
Vince Matthews: Yep and here is what the deal is. Pt. 2 is almost done. We’re recording it this week. We’re going to do three cover songs and then two originals. The two originals are some of the best stuff we’ve ever done; it’s more brutal than anything on Pt. 1, but if you like Pt. 1 then you’re going to love Pt. 2. The cover songs we did are SLAYER’s “Epidemic” from Reign in Blood, CELTIC FROST’s “Into Crypts of Rays” from Morbid Tales, and the last one we do is IRON MAIDEN’s “To Tame a Land.” We did that to show people that this is where we come from. We’re going to give you two brutal originals, but these bands are what made us and what we grew up with. Some guys don’t think that covers are appropriate or whatever, but to me when I was a kid I air jammed to those songs. So I did that just to say thanks to the bands that helped me become what I am today musically and helped my musical vocabulary. And now we’re finishing up Pt. 2 and it should be released on Sevared Records and I think once it’s released Relapse will team up with Sevared and do like a double vinyl version.
MMA: And after that?
Vince Matthews: Right after Pt. 2 comes out we’re going to release a full-length on Relapse. We’re looking forward to that. It’s going to be a big deal for us. We worked hard on it and we’ve got over 70 percent of the record written already. The two songs that are going to be on Pt. 2 were originally going to be on the Relapse full-length, but we’re going to use them on Pt. 2 to actually pump up the covers. The title for the full-length is going to be Modus Operandi. We were talking about having it come out in July of 2011.
Tags: Bernie Madoff, Career Criminal, Chris Yuastella, criminal element, Criminally Contaminated, DECEASED, Derek Boyer, dying fetus, Emetic Records, Epidemic, Eternal Ruin, Guilty as Charged, Into Crypts of Rays, Jason Netherton, John Gallagher, Lacerated Enemy Records, Mafia, Metal Army, metal army america, Modus Operandi, Relapse Records, Sevared Records, Suffocation, Terrance Hobbs, The Dark Knight, To Tame a Land