Gospel of the Horns II
by Niklas Göransson
Supreme, extreme, undivine – after a glorious conquest of Europe, Australian chaos bringers Gospel of the Horns started laying the groundwork for their debut album, A Call to Arms.
MARK HOWITZER: Okay, let me have a look here… we got home from Europe in August 2000 and then played a Melbourne show with DESTRÖYER 666 two months later – but I don’t think we were back to rehearsing until November. We felt a bit burnt out and just couldn’t be stuffed going through the motions of writing new material. That’s when Marcus and I started talking about bringing in a second guitarist to help us reinvigorate the band.
MARCUS HELLCUNT: Chris Masochist is a great guitar player, so I mentioned him to Coz. I thought GOSPEL would sound a lot fuller and heavier live with two guitars. That’s not taking anything away from Ryan, though – we played some of our best and heaviest shows as a three-piece in the “Eve of the Conqueror” era.
HOWITZER: Marcus had worked with Chris in ANATOMY, and Ryan and I knew him from local shows. I always liked his guitar playing – especially the solos. And more importantly, we could tell that he was a good bloke. Chris is three years younger than Ryan, so I reckon that gave us the kick up the arse we needed to get things rolling again. Maybe Ryan can correct me, but I’d be surprised if we had more than one new song before Chris joined.
RYAN MARAUDER: Almost all of “A Call to Arms” was already written – at least seventy-five per cent. Coz contributed a little bit, but I wrote pretty much all the music on that album. Chris is a great guitarist, but his main job was the leads.
HELLCUNT: About half of “A Call to Arms” was already pre-recorded on demos when Chris joined. Then Ryan came up with “Chaos Bringer”, “Vengeance is Mine”, and “The Trial of Mankind”.
CHRIS MASOCHIST: I might’ve helped out with some arrangements, but pretty much all the riffs were already in place. I only added some leads – most of which were written in the studio. For example, the solo on “The Trial of Mankind” was fully improvised.
“A Call to Arms” was recorded at St Andrews Studio in April 2001. ANATOMY, the former band of Marcus Hellcunt and Chris Masochist, used the same studio for their 1999 album “The Witches of Dathomir”.
MASOCHIST: I was against going to St Andrews. My experience there the first time around wasn’t good, and I told the others that I had a bad feeling about it. I’d seen the equipment and his way of working and just didn’t like what came out of that studio.
HOWITZER: I dropped by one evening after work. Ryan was done with his guitar parts, and Chris had tracked a couple of songs. The engineer was shaking his head, ‘Something’s wrong, lads; it sounds all splishy-splashy.’ Basically, there was some kind of turbulence in the sound – as if the guitars weren’t in unison. It wasn’t punching out from the speakers.
MARAUDER: I had never recorded with another guitarist before; I’d only ever gone up against my own backing tracks. I’m self-taught, so I’ve got a really odd, cack-handed style. I attack the strings upwards, whereas most guitarists attack down, so Chris and I kind of phased each other out. I think if either one of us had done all the guitar tracks, the production would’ve sounded a lot different.
HOWITZER: We used to laugh at Ryan’s weird style, but it never occurred to us that it might cause an issue – not until the engineer said, ‘Look, this isn’t gonna work.’ It was a real shock; we didn’t know what to do. Luckily, Chris was mature enough to take it on the chin and say, ‘Yeah, maybe I should step aside and let Ryan do all the rhythm tracks on the problem songs.’ As you can imagine, a lot of other guitarists wouldn’t have taken kindly to that. But luckily, Chris just knuckled down and did the solos brilliantly.
MASOCHIST: For songs or certain sections where we knew it wasn’t gonna work with his up-picking and my normal picking, we said, ‘Ryan, you do all the rhythms here.’ I couldn’t tell you who plays what on which track, though – I don’t remember.
Alas, when GOSPEL OF THE HORNS returned to the studio after a break, the engineer had lost the entire mix due to his system crashing – which meant two full days down the drain.
MARAUDER: Oh, that’s right – he lost the whole mix. The other guys were more pissed off than I was; it didn’t really bother me. I like being in the studio. I don’t remember it being such a big deal.
HELLCUNT: It was devastating. We were fucking pissed off. I wasn’t happy about it because the first version came out way better.
HOWITZER: It was a shitty situation. “A Call to Arms” is good, but it hasn’t got that real clenched fist, smash-to-the-face attitude I can hear in “Eve of the Conqueror”.
MASOCHIST: I’m aware that some people like “A Call to Arms”. I don’t hate it, but I know the recording would’ve come out much better if we’d gone elsewhere. As I said, I was very sceptical due to the sound we got with ANATOMY, even though it’s a different type of band – a bit noisier and with different picking. I was hoping that “A Call to Arms” would grow on me, but… yeah, what can you do?
MARAUDER: Before getting started, we’d told Damnation that all the material was ready and asked if we could book the studio. ‘Yeah, go ahead.’ From memory, I think the budget was ten grand. We gave ’em some updates, which they were happy with. But then, when it came to paying for it… just complete radio silence.
MASOCHIST: It was frustrating, of course. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a band where things have run smoothly in my life <laughs>. In heavy metal, something always fucks up.
HELLCUNT: Yeah. I think we just tried to fucken… I dunno; I guess we just blocked it out by playing shows and getting drunk. GOSPEL OF THE HORNS used to party a lot.
HOWITZER: For months, we’d been told that Damnation would cover the studio costs. But it went on and on – and after a while, you can tell when someone’s trying to pull one over you. You’ve either got the money, or ya haven’t. I told ‘em, ‘Look, we want out’, and they got back to us with, ‘No, you can’t just leave; you signed a contract! We’ll pay for your recording next month.’ Which they didn’t. First, we spoke with Modern Invasion.
Modern Invasion is a Melbourne-based label – owned and operated by Daniel Janecka – that released both BESTIAL WARLUST albums and the first two DESTRÖYER 666.
HOWITZER: Once Daniel heard that we were under contract, he wouldn’t go anywhere near us. So yeah, the whole situation pretty much took the wind outta our sails – that’s for sure. It was incredibly frustrating because there was nothing we could do. We had no new album to promote nor a label pushing us forward. So, long story short: Damnation wouldn’t even return my calls, and then the studio engineer came knocking on the door of the house Ryan and I lived in.
MARAUDER: At least he was polite about it. ‘Lads, if you don’t give me my money in a couple of weeks, I’ll have no recourse but to take you to court.’ ‘Yeah, we totally understand.’
HOWITZER: Within twenty-four hours, I rang up Darragh of Invictus and said, ‘Look, do you wanna do it? We don’t give a fuck about the contractual stuff. This shit has been dragging on for eight or nine months now; if you’ve got the money to foot the studio bill, it’s yours.’ He jumped on it, and that was that.
Invictus Productions is an Irish underground label and distro founded in 1999. Its owner, Darragh O’Laoghaire, brought over GOSPEL OF THE HORNS for a Dublin show as part of their European tour in the summer of 2000.
DARRAGH O’LAOGHAIRE: I think it was New Year’s Day 2002 that Cozzy rang to wish me Happy New Year. In the middle of the conversation, he said, ‘Look, we’re having problems with Damnation. Do you wanna release the album?’ I was absolutely blown away, like, ‘What the fuck? Yeah, absolutely!’ So, I hung up and immediately started getting my shit together to pay for the studio recording, which I did shortly after that.
Did you have enough money in the company to cover it?
DARRAGH: No, all of it came outta my personal finances. I even had to borrow a little bit. But to me, the offer was too good to refuse; I’d started thinking about taking the label to a higher level, and this gave me such an opportunity. Back then, everything was still very ad hoc, or as Keith (DESTRÖYER 666) once described it: ‘hobby labelling’, which was a fair comment. Being a complete novice, working full-time on the side, I learned as I went along. So, once the studio bill had been paid, I announced that Invictus was releasing “A Call to Arms”.
MARAUDER: When Damnation found out, they contacted Invictus and said, ‘Hey, you can’t do this – it’s our recording!’ Darragh was like, ‘Well, too bad. You didn’t fucking pay, and now these guys are being threatened with legal action.’ That was the only resistance they put up.
DARRAGH: At some point the following month, I got a text from Marcus saying that Osmose had offered them a deal. Obviously, being picked up by an established label with a huge name in the underground would’ve been a good move for GOSPEL OF THE HORNS.
Hadn’t they signed a contract with Invictus by then?
DARRAGH: No, we never had any contracts for GOSPEL. I asked Cozzy to give me a call so we could talk it through. The first thing he said to me – and I’ll never forget this – was, ‘I’ve already agreed to do the album with Invictus, so you’re releasing it.’ I mean, I wouldn’t have been pissed off if they’d gone to Osmose; it would’ve made perfect sense. Cozzy knew that Invictus was just starting out. But he was like, ‘Yeah, I want you to do it.’ And that was a big fucking thing for me.
HOWITZER: Now we had another problem: ‘What about the cover?’ Everything else was done – the inner layout, the gatefold, and the artwork on the back with those two demon-things that Ryan drew. We hadn’t a clue what to do, and everything we tried fell flat on its face. Originally, Ryan and I had the idea to use a band photo in the same context as the first DEATH STRIKE LP, “Fuckin’ Death”. So, we took a photo that we sent to Darragh; straight away, he hated it. ‘Holy fuck, this looks like a shitty punk cover!’
DARRAGH: <laughs> I wish I still fucking had that photograph – Cozzy reminded me of it recently. I can’t even remember what it looked like, to be honest. I really can’t.
HOWITZER: Jason Healy from Heresy Magazine handled the layout, and he gave us a few suggestions… but mostly trench warfare stuff, and I wanted nothing to do with the whole Aussie ‘war metal’ thing. We also tried the guy who made the artwork for “Eve of the Conqueror”, and he came up with an idea – which was shit. So, we were back to square one.
MARAUDER: We gave Neil, who did the “Eve…” cover, some guidelines… albeit not very original ones: Satan coming out of a pit in hell with angels burning and falling to the ground, and so on. He did just as we asked, but it looked fucking awful. I still have a mock-up of it. There was very little time to come up with something after that, so we went back to my Dragonlance book.
HOWITZER: Ryan had an old book that we used to steal flyer artwork from. We were flipping through it one day when we noticed that illustration: both of us looked at each other, ‘What about this one?’ And that was it. By then, Ryan and I… whether we were lazy, lethargic, out of options, or only frustrated – we just went with it. It’s a strange one. What do you think? Did you find it shocking or…?
I bought “A Call to Arms” on CD – that small, it doesn’t look too dreadful. In fact, it was infinitely preferable to all the Photoshop vomits plaguing the underground around then. The BESTIAL WARLUST comparison didn’t even occur to me at the time.
HOWITZER: It didn’t occur to me either until the Melbourne boys started bringing it up: ‘That looks like a B-grade version of “Vengeance War ‘till Death”!’ <laughs> Every time I pick it up now, I see the likeness straight away. Keith was ribbing us about it all the fucking time. But yeah, fair enough: gotta call a spade a spade.
DARRAGH: The design they went with in the end was always a headscratcher to me. It’s a bit cartoonish and looks almost like a poor man’s version of “Vengeance War ‘till Death”. Either way, it’s an identifiable cover now – one that’s etched into my brain. When I was doing the reissues, I asked Cozzy, ‘Should we change the artwork?’ But he was adamant, ‘No, that’s the cover we chose, so that’s what we’re sticking with.’ I have to admire him for that.
MARAUDER: I like it, but the similarities to the first BESTIAL are undeniable. I can’t believe we missed that – and I really don’t know why I didn’t just draw the damn thing myself.
“A Call to Arms” came out in October 2002 – a year and a half after it was recorded – courtesy of Invictus Productions.
DARRAGH: I printed two thousand copies at a CD manufacturing plant on Ship Street in Dublin. I remember opening the boxes and then just sitting there going, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is actually happening.’ Everyone loves to rag on CDs because they’re considered uncool in the metal scene – but when you’ve started a label and put out your first big release, it’s a major fucking deal.
In a GOSPEL OF THE HORNS interview with Voices from the Darkside shortly after the album came out, Howitzer mentioned that Marcus Hellcunt and Joe Skullfucker were in the process of reforming BESTIAL WARLUST.
HELLCUNT: I reckon that might’ve been all talk; nothing ever happened. By then, unless we were actually gonna start rehearsing regularly with BESTIAL, I was more into doing GOSPEL anyway.
In the same interview, Hellcunt stated that he hoped to return to Europe as soon as possible – preferably for six months. A bigger tour covering more territories. At the time, DESTRÖYER 666 had recently left their native shores; it sounds almost as if GOSPEL were pondering a similar move.
HELLCUNT: Definitely, I’ve considered moving to Europe on a number of occasions. I don’t think Ryan was too keen on the idea, though – and I’m not sure about Coz. But yeah, I always wanted to take the band to the next level; it just never eventuated.
MARAUDER: Nah, not interested. I mean, Keith had long-term goals planned out for DESTRÖYER 666. What he’s doing now is what he had his sight set on from the beginning – and good on him, he’s been really successful. GOSPEL never had that mentality; we liked being a chaotic underground band, putting out a couple of LPs and playing some shows. I never wanted to make it a career. We carved out our own little niche, and that’s all it was ever gonna be.
HOWITZER: Honestly, doing what DESTRÖYER did – just closing shop and moving to another continent – is something I had neither the dedication nor the incentive to do. It never so much as crossed my mind, and I imagine Ryan would’ve given you the same answer. Just thinking of what we were like back then, trying to do that full-time… holy hell. I wouldn’t be here now, I tell ya.
MASOCHIST: I can’t speak for the other guys, but I would’ve been up for it. But I suppose we were busy doing shows in Australia and whatnot, so that didn’t happen. Nothing came to fruition until 2003.
In May 2003, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS embarked on an extensive European venture alongside RAZOR OF OCCAM – a band fronted by Matt Razor, who grew up with Howitzer and KK Warslut in the small South Australian desert town of Whyalla – and Swedish underground veterans IN AETERNUM.
MARAUDER: Those Swedish guys were fucking great; we instantly became friends. David was just absolutely hilarious. Tore and Daniel were a bit more reserved, but we got along really well. We had a good time, but again – just utterly unprofessional, getting smashed every day.
DARRAGH: That was undoubtedly one of the craziest, wildest, most chaotic and total mayhemic times I’ve ever had. Imagine a mini-MOTLEY CRÜE tour but in vans instead of a nightliner. Absolute and unparalleled debauchery and decadence; it’s a miracle that nobody fucking died. And that’s not an exaggeration, given some of the antics that went on – run-ins with Russian mobsters and whatnot.