Gospel of the Horns I
by Niklas Göransson
Australia’s Gospel of the Horns was reborn in 1997 when Mark Howitzer crossed paths with Ryan Marauder. Out of this meeting grew their seminal mini-LP, Eve of the Conqueror, followed by a campaign of southern carnage on the streets of Europe.
MARK HOWITZER: After I moved down to Melbourne from Brisbane in ‘95, people at shows would say things like, ‘Oh, that GOSPEL OF THE HORNS demo was killer! Is the band finished?’ At that stage, I hadn’t even considered rebooting GOSPEL.
GOSPEL OF THE HORNS was founded by Mark Howitzer and Transvaal D in 1993. The following year, they brought in Rob Death Dealer – now known primarily from VOMITOR – on strings and recorded a demo called “The Satanist’s Dream”. The band was put on ice in late 1995 when Howitzer moved to Melbourne and joined DESTRÖYER 666 on drums.
HOWITZER: After a year in DESTRÖYER, I started thinking about giving it a crack. I’d been to a few parties, chatting away with people and putting the word out that I was looking for a guitarist.
In June 1997, three months after the release of “Unchain the Wolves”, Howitzer was invited to a party at his former flatmate Wato’s house. As was Ryan Marauder, then guitarist for BESTIAL WARLUST and future bass player for DESTRÖYER 666.
RYAN MARAUDER: When I got there, Coz (Mark Howitzer) was sitting on the doorstep. Wato had left a note on the door saying, ‘Meet us down at the pub.’ We introduced ourselves, and by the time we arrived at the pub, it had already been established that ‘Yeah, let’s do GOSPEL OF THE HORNS again.’ Coz was keen to get a band going, and the BESTIAL WARLUST thing had sort of fizzled out for me. I was like, ‘Well, fuck – I love that demo. My guitar style is a lot different to Rob’s, but let’s have a jam and see how things pan out.’
HOWITZER: It was pretty much an instant connection. Actually, Ryan reminded me a bit of Rob: they have similar sort of laid-back attitudes. Ryan is eight years younger than me, so he would’ve been around twenty. I hoped he’d bring some youthful infusion to the band, but the most important thing was finding someone compatible on a personal level.
Following the “Unchain the Wolves” recording, Howitzer switched from percussion to bass guitar. The duo then brought in a friend called Pete ‘Warhammer‘ Martin on drums; at the time, he played with the aforementioned Wato in a local black metal band called ANTICHRIST.
MARAUDER: Coz and I had similar ideas about what we wanted to do, but our styles were very different. I was influenced by ANGELCORPSE – their debut, “Hammer of Gods”, had come out the year before – as well as IMMORTAL’s first few records and Norwegian black metal in general. Coz was mostly into classics such as SODOM, SLAYER, and CELTIC FROST, which I also liked.
HOWITZER: Ryan listened to a lot of modern black metal but had no problem fusing that with the old style on “The Satanist’s Dream”. So yeah, he added his own touch – but without losing the traditional GOSPEL sound.
MARAUDER: Also, my playing was a bit more technical. Coz is originally a drummer, and when we first started out, he wasn’t the best bass player <laughs>. His riffs were much simpler than mine, and they just worked really well together; I reckon that’s what made the sound.
HOWITZER: Once we got comfortable with each other… after two months or so, I knew it would be a good working relationship. In retrospect, I couldn’t have made a better choice of guitarist.
Howitzer’s voice sound like nothing else I can think of. What I find interesting is how these vocals would probably not have worked for much else than GOSPEL OF THE HORNS.
HOWITZER: That’s just the way I sound. Back in Whyalla, we had a death metal band called SARCOPHAGUS, and I did the vocals on one song from our second demo. It wasn’t as harsh as what I came up with in GOSPEL, but that’s when I realised that I can’t do the traditional death metal style. It just isn’t me – I have neither the aggression nor the attack. I always wanted people to be able to hear what I was singing, so I stuck within the range of what I could get away with.
The reformed GOSPEL OF THE HORNS played their first gig in January 1998 – in Melbourne, alongside Greek expats AGATUS. I found a review complete with photos in Heresy Magazine #3; Rob Death Dealer can be seen raging up the front, next to Jarro Deceiver and KK Warslut of DESTRÖYER 666.
HOWITZER: I believe this was in the same period that DESTRÖYER recorded “Satanic Speed Metal”. The day before the gig, DESTRÖYER dropped by our rehearsal place to listen – as did Young Rob (Death Dealer), who’d come down from Brisbane. And then the following night, I remember it was quite surreal seeing him up at the front, singing away.
MARAUDER: AGATUS were stationed in Adelaide and knew a bunch of the Whyalla guys, so a whole bunch of ‘em came over – including Matt from RAZOR OF OCCAM, who was helping AGATUS out on rhythm guitar. There were also people coming from Brisbane, Sydney… yeah, everywhere.
Isn’t that a rather impressive attendance, considering that GOSPEL hadn’t released anything since the ’94 demo?
MARAUDER: “The Satanist’s Dream” was really popular in the Australian underground. That gig was also the first proper GOSPEL show; I think Coz and Rob did a couple in Brisbane, but they’re not well-documented. So yeah, it was a big deal, and people came from everywhere. The scene back then was quite small but really united – you’d think nothing of travelling interstate to see bands play.
HOWITZER: I think AGATUS caused a bit of a stir – a positive one – when they played Melbourne with DESTRÖYER the previous year. But Ryan is right; I think most people were there to see GOSPEL based on our first demo. We didn’t do “Sinners” until like six months later.
In June 1998, four years after “The Satanist’s Dream”, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS recorded their second demo, “Sinners”. Judging from the booklet, Marauder shaped not only the band’s new sound but also its visual representation.
MARAUDER: I made the logo and all those little devils and demons. I used to draw a lot – but apart from the GOSPEL stuff, there’s not much else out there. I did a couple of logos for other bands, ANTICHRIST being one of them. They did a seven-inch on Morbid Productions, a local label whose logo I made.
Although the booklet features the moniker ‘thrashing black metal’, “Sinners” has nothing in common with the retro-thrash wave that was emerging at the time.
HOWITZER: I think the Norwegian band AURA NOIR came up with the term ‘black thrash’, but we hadn’t come across it by then. We didn’t take it from anywhere else – we just thought it was a good description of our music. But yes, that retro shit was everywhere in the late 90s. I didn’t mind the first GEHENNAH record… but after that, it was like, ‘Ugh’.
Howitzer wrote the eponymous song, Marauder brought “The Power of Darkness”, and the two of them co-composed “Desolation Descending” and the title track. This is where the classic GOSPEL OF THE HORNS sound takes form – a heavy fusion of underground black and thrash with strong vibes from SODOM, CELTIC FROST, and MOTÖRHEAD.
MARAUDER: I was trying to retain that old-school vibe from “The Satanist’s Dream”. I didn’t want to move GOSPEL too far away from its origins… even though I probably did. I mean, I couldn’t help it because, again, Rob’s guitar style is completely different from mine. Also, the drummer we had was by no means a double-kick Pete Sandoval; he was rather simplistic, which I think worked in our favour.
HOWITZER: Pete didn’t feel too comfortable with the recording side of things because he wasn’t confident in his abilities. But we were very happy with what he’d done on “Sinners” – it was perfect for where we were going.
MARAUDER: If we’d started out with a technical drummer like Matt Skitz, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS would’ve sounded a lot different. I’m glad it worked out the way it did.
HOWITZER: Pete was in the band, but he also sort of wasn’t. He was distant, you know? He enjoyed playing live and rehearsing, but Ryan and I were the ones pushing GOSPEL. We made artwork for flyers, put together a proper letterhead, and sent out heaps of demos and promo stuff. We also had our own PO box that we went to every week to see if we got any new letters or feedback.
How was the demo received?
HOWITZER: Very well; we were getting mail from all around Australia and Europe. Not all that many Yanks, though – we heard from one of the USURPER members, and I was writing to Mike of ARES KINGDOM – but lots of Dutchies, Germans, and Frenchies ordered the demo. That’s how we came into contact with Daan from Damnation Records.
The Dutch label started as Damnation Distribution in 1990 but was rebranded two years later. By the time they contacted GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, Damnation Records had issued vinyl editions of bands like EMPEROR and GEHENNAH as well as original releases by ANCIENT and EINHERJER.
HOWITZER: “The Satanist’s Dream” is Daan’s favourite Australian demo, so he ordered “Sinners” and ended up loving it. He wrote back, and we were chatting away when I said, ‘How about we do something with Damnation?’ – and the rest is history. Ryan and I were stoked; our sole ambition was to record something, put it out on vinyl, and hold it in our hands. At that stage, we weren’t even considering playing outside of Melbourne.
“Sinners” also caught the attention of local label Morbid Productions, who offered to release a seven-inch. So, in November 1998, GOSPEL recorded an EP called “Monuments of Impurity” with their new drummer, B.M. Obliterator. Oddly, it consists only of a re-recorded song from the first demo, a MORTAL SIN cover, and an instrumental piece.
HOWITZER: As soon as I heard “A Call to Arms”, I thought ‘Instrumental!’ I couldn’t imagine where any vocals would go; it would’ve ruined the whole vibe. We rehearsed that song for months and played it real tight. Ryan’s guitarwork on that one is excellent. We re-did “Rites of Demonic Possession” because it’s a heavy song, but the original version is too repetitive – it goes for three minutes too long. Ryan and I thought we could do it proper justice, which I believe we did. But yeah, perhaps it’s a bit odd… I never thought of it that way, and we didn’t get any weird comments about it either.
My initial assumption was that GOSPEL OF THE HORNS signed with Damnation after agreeing to do an EP with Morbid – and then saved all the good new stuff for “Eve of the Conqueror”.
HOWITZER: Nah mate, we weren’t switched on that way. I reckon we’d already written several new songs by then, but I’m not sure why none of ‘em was used for “Monuments…”. I’m glad we didn’t because the sound on that EP is atrocious; we got duped into recording only one guitar track and then splitting it. That engineer was a… oh god, he was a character. He just wanted us to get in there, do it, and fuck off.
MARAUDER: We had a new drummer, Brett Murray… I think he’s called B.M. Obliterator on the seven-inch. And he wasn’t cutting it – in fact, he was really bad. By that stage, we’d already received the deal from Damnation and started thinking, ‘We can’t do an LP with this guy; he’s not good enough.’ Marcus Hellcunt, whom I’d played with in BESTIAL WARLUST, had seen us live and said, ‘Your drummer is fucking terrible. I’ll help you out if you want.’
MARCUS HELLCUNT: I mean, it’s not as if I was the first person to shit-can him. I liked GOSPEL’s cruisy, laid-back, rocky sort of heavy metal thrash style and thought it would be better suited to my drumming, so I offered to help out.
MARAUDER: Coz and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’ So, we met Murray in the city and told him we weren’t gonna continue with him. We started rehearsing with Marcus the following week, and it worked out really well.
How would Hellcunt have been suited for the demo?
HOWITZER: Not at all – it would’ve been too polished. But once we started writing for “Eve of the Conqueror”, Marcus was the obvious choice. We just gave him a rehearsal tape that Ryan and I had made; I did the drums to give him an idea of what we were after. He had a good listen, and I reckon we were ready within two or three months.
A mini-LP called “Eve of the Conqueror” was recorded at Back Beach Studios in April 1999.
HOWITZER: The studio had an area where bands could crash out during their stay. It was ten minutes from the beach, so we could get out in the morning and do whatever before recording and then have a few drinks afterwards; it was perfect. The band camaraderie during that period was top-notch, and I think it shows on the EP. The playing and songwriting are good, and you can just hear the aggression coming outta your speakers.
MARAUDER: Back Beach was in a seaside town called Rye – a nice, secluded spot on the Mornington Peninsula. I can’t recall any other underground band of note who’d used them at that point. The owners played in a fairly successful nu-metal band called SUPERHEIST and had produced albums for a few ‘modern’ metal acts. Perhaps that’s why we chose them? I can’t remember, but very few places dealt mainly with heavier bands. “Eve…” was our first serious effort and the first recording I was ever truly happy with.
HOWITZER: When we first walked in, we noticed an electronic drum kit and started joking about it – wondering whether the engineer would try to coerce us into using it. He did, but Marcus was having none of it. I remember him going, ‘No fucking way!’ Ryan and I just laughed; ‘Jesus Christ, forget about it.’
HELLCUNT: Yeah, I had a big argument with the engineer – I basically told him to go fuck himself. There was no fucking way that was ever gonna happen. However, the DESTRÖYER 666 album “Phoenix Rising” was done that way.
HOWITZER: Once the mix was done and we’d received money from Damnation, we came by the studio to pay the bill. DESTRÖYER were there to record “Phoenix Rising”, and Keith told us they’d decided to use the electronic kit. We couldn’t believe it: total shock. I don’t know how they got duped into that one.
“Eve of the Conqueror” was released in February 2000. From memory, it was received rather well in Europe.
MARAUDER: People loved it. Damnation sent us a hundred copies, which we got rid of quickly. I can’t think of any other Australian black or death metal band that did an LP since MORTAL SIN. Oh, hang on. Maybe DESTRÖYER’s “Violence is the Prince of This World” had been released on vinyl? Anyway, this was during that dead space when people were pretty much only buying CDs.
HELLCUNT: Coz wanted it on LP. Yeah, I think that’s the way it was. Because Damnation released a lot of stuff on vinyl. I remember Coz talking about it and saying it was coming out on LP.
HOWITZER: Yeah, vinyl was our primary demand; there were no ifs or buts. Back then, there was only one pressing plant in Australia, and it cost an absolute fortune. That’s where Modern Invasion printed “Violence is the Prince of This World” – and if you check the sleeve, it’s not solid. It’s not the same quality as vinyl manufactured in Europe. So yeah, that was non-negotiable.
There is video footage of an April 2000 gig at The Tote Hotel. Howitzer is wearing leather pants, a bullet belt, and a skin-tight SODOM sleeveless. Marauder sports an oversized CORONER shirt and jeans. Unassuming stage attire – often with garments of un-creddy death metal bands – has been a constant hallmark of Ryan’s career.
MARAUDER: I bought all my shirts at Extreme Aggression, and they only used to get them in extra-large. I was a lot skinnier back then too. I never felt comfortable wearing leather pants. I bought a pair once, believe it or not, but that didn’t last long. Same with the studded gauntlets and that whole leather get-up; I wore it for a handful of early DESTRÖYER shows. But after that, I just didn’t care.
How much of your lives revolved around GOSPEL OF THE HORNS around this time?
HOWITZER: I’d say about ninety per cent; the band was everything to us. By that stage, Ryan and I lived together, and if we weren’t rehearsing or playing gigs, we’d be hanging out, listening to music, drinking, or whatever. We were constantly getting up to mischief – it was unreal. And nine times outta ten, we got away scar-free. We covered each other’s asses all the time. Just knowing that someone’s got your back and vice versa is half the battle.
MARAUDER: Yeah, we were pretty quick to violence and used to fight heaps. There were always punch-ups connected with our group… bands like BESTIAL WARLUST, DESTRÖYER 666, and GOSPEL. The scene was much smaller and less known to ordinary people, so as a metalhead you’d attract more attention. I don’t think anyone even raises an eyebrow now. Fights at shows were common back then. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw anything like that here; it must’ve been decades. But yeah, trouble always seemed to follow us. Good times.
One of many classic stories from this time is that of the kebab bikers. Howitzer gave a brief account of it in Bardo Methodology #7.
MARAUDER: Coz, Wendy – my girlfriend at the time – and I had gone to a twenty-four-hour kebab shop and sat outside eating. There were these two bikers… I can’t remember what club, but they were patched up. Suddenly, I got a chip thrown in the back of my head. I turned around, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, sorry mate.’ ‘Okay. No worries.’ But it happened again, so we knew they were doing it on purpose. And then I think Coz got hit with a chip.
Since #7 was published, I have received complaints that Howitzer’s version lacked a crucial detail. When targeted, he reportedly issued an ominous warning: ‘No man throws a chip at me!’
HOWITZER: <laughs> Sounds like me, yeah. I honestly can’t remember; it was such a long time ago. Everything happened real quick – I looked at Ryan, he looked at me, and then we just nodded.
MARAUDER: We stood up and went, ‘Alright, let’s fucken go.’ One of them was pretty short, but his mate was enormous. Coz started fighting with the smaller bikie, so I got the big fucker. We locked up; I had him by the throat, and he had me by the throat. Now, it was the little guy who’d started all the trouble, and I could tell that his big friend didn’t really want to fight. I think we threw a couple of punches at each other, then locked up again, and that was it. He just didn’t wanna fight. And I’m like, ‘Fine by me. This prick is fucking huge anyway.’
HOWITZER: They were just classic bikies, you know. You had the smaller, nuggety one – he was the bigmouth with an attitude – and then there was the taller dude. I just aimed at the one closest to me.
MARAUDER: Meanwhile, Coz got on top of the smaller guy and started punching him in the face. Wendy had finished her kebab, and the foil wrap had accumulated all the garlic and lemon sauce at the bottom. She just upended this thing right in his face, and he started screaming: ‘My eyes! What did they put in my eyes? It must have been acid!’ <laughs> Just then, a cop car pulled up, so we took off running. I looked back and could see that the coppers had the bikers. The little guy still couldn’t see, so his mate was helping him out. But yeah, that was a semi-typical night.
In June 2000, four months after “Eve of the Conqueror” was released on LP, Damnation Records issued a CD version.
MARAUDER: We weren’t gonna do CDs originally – that was decided afterwards. I think that’s why we chucked a bonus song from the demo on there.
HOWITZER: From memory, I’d been in talks with Damnation about doing a small European tour. So, our thinking was to use the CD edition to further promote the band. Plus, when playing gigs in Melbourne, we could sell some CDs to help us get the ball rolling towards Europe.
The same month, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS embarked on a tour of Europe. This was back when very few extreme metal bands from Australia had played overseas – I can only think of HOBBS’ ANGEL OF DEATH, MORTAL SIN, and SADISTIK EXEKUTION.
HELLCUNT: We paid for it ourselves. I remember Coz being really staunch about that, saying, ‘We’ve gotta get this thing going.’
MARAUDER: We knew that Damnation was a bedroom operation, but we probably expected a little more than they were willing to do. I think the prospect of a tour for them was like… ‘No, we just put out records – we don’t organise shows.’
HOWITZER: Everything from our flights to the hired cars was self-financed. If we couldn’t get a lift to one of our gigs, we’d sort it out from our own pocket. Damnation helped us with four or five dates, I think – three in Holland, one in Belgium, and one in France. Invictus Productions put on a show in Dublin, and then we played in London and one more in Belgium.
The trio devised a cunning plan: playing a warm-up show in Melbourne, just hours before leaving for the airport.
HOWITZER: I know, it’s fucking madness – but we were young. I mean, I couldn’t imagine doing something like that in my late thirties or forties; it would’ve been impossible. It was a good show, though. Marcus got into a bit of mischief afterwards.
MARAUDER: That was Coz’s idea… god, I can’t believe we went along with it. The show was in South Yarra – I forget the name of the bar now, but it wasn’t a place that did metal gigs very often. Usually, all the bands playing get a percentage of the ticket sales, but this was a nominated door deal.
Nominated door deals mean that the attendees elect whom they’ve come to see. Besides GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, three other bands were playing: SITHLORD, ANARAZEL and TOECUTTER.
MARAUDER: Everyone said they were there for GOSPEL, so we received all the money. The other two got absolutely fuck all. We’d left our gear at a friend’s house, so Coz and I went back there afterwards, grabbed everything, and left for the airport. But Marcus, being the drummer, had more to pack up so he stayed behind to deal with the money. Now, TOECUTTER had ex-members of NOTHING SACRED and HOBBS’ ANGEL OF DEATH – and them being older guys, they were pissed off that they weren’t getting paid. ‘Scene seniority’ and all that.
HELLCUNT: Their manager got up in my face and started hassling me about the money situation. Then he pushed me, so I smashed a glass in his fucking head. There was a rumour that the cops were coming to grab me at the airport.
MARAUDER: So, just hours before we leave for Europe, Cunty puts this guy in the hospital. For a while there, we had serious concerns about whether we’d even be allowed to leave the country. Just crazy shit like that, all the time. Who the fuck organises a gig hours before they’re about to leave the continent? It’s fucking stupid.