Gospel of the Horns III
by Niklas Göransson
The mid-2000s saw Gospel of the Horns grinding to a halt and losing a key member. This period, however, sparked a resurgence – an infusion of creative energy that paved the way for Realm of the Damned, as well as their first US tour.
MARK HOWITZER: After returning from Europe in May 2003, we weren’t productive at all. I was still a bit of a loose cannon, just outta control. Bear in mind now that we’d recorded “A Call to Arms” two years prior, and during this time, we essentially got nothing done. Ryan had a few new songs. We rehearsed sporadically and played the occasional show – some really good ones – but that was about it.
One such show was GOSPEL OF THE HORNS’ second appearance at Metal for the Brain – an annual festival in the Australian capital of Canberra – in October 2003. Prior to this, Chris Masochist had been there in 1998 with ENGRAVED, which later became HELLSPAWN. Ryan Marauder played the festival twice before during his stint as session bassist for DESTRÖYER 666. It was the second time for Marcus Hellcunt, who performed with BESTIAL WARLUST at the ‘95 edition.
MARCUS HELLCUNT: BESTIAL were a bit unrehearsed, so we didn’t play very well. GOSPEL, on the other hand, had grown into a tight fucking unit by then. We’d gotten used to the bigger venues and had more of a stage presence. Plus, Coz as frontman… fucking hell, it doesn’t matter what size the crowd is – he’s got a real knack for riling ‘em up. But yeah, there was a lot of partying and cancelling rehearsals back then.
DARRAGH O’LAOGHAIRE: I think the chaos surrounding that European tour continued in many respects when the boys came back to Australia. Besides, rehearsing is typically the last thing you wanna do after four weeks on the road. Especially in the context of how we did it – totally underground, very rough and rowdy. It wasn’t a comfortable tour by any stretch.
RYAN MARAUDER: We got nothing done. Coz and Marcus lived together, with Chris just around the corner. They were on one end of town, and I on the other. Everyone was having big weekends and rehearsals were cancelled all the time. We’d seem to be making some progress but then not do shit for a month. And rehearsals kept getting turned into drinking sessions as well.
CHRIS MASOCHIST: Around that time – 2003 and 2004 – things were pretty stale. I hadn’t written any material. Perhaps I was still trying to get used to Ryan’s strange GOSPEL riffs? We had a few half-finished songs, but that was it. I think we partied pretty hard as well.
HOWITZER: I’d say Marcus and I were the main instigators. We’d be out drinking, and I’d have to call up Chris and Ryan, ‘Sorry, we can’t be fucked coming to rehearsal. We’re still at the pub’, or whatever. It wasn’t a good period – there was a bit of stress in the band, and Ryan got frustrated.
MARAUDER: I was writing a lot and had a bunch of new songs, so I tried to take the lead. Like, ‘Come on guys, let’s get it together.’ Now, I myself certainly wasn’t perfect, but it just kept happening over and over until I got sick of it. I gave them an ultimatum: ‘I’m gonna leave if we don’t start rehearsing properly.’
HELLCUNT: I remember the conversation but not my response to it. I think, at that point, we were all just fucking smashed. It went straight over my head, but I do recall Ryan saying that.
MASOCHIST: Sure, there was plenty of partying, but we didn’t quite see the problem. In hindsight, I’d agree with Ryan that we were largely unproductive. Then I met my ex-girlfriend and started spending a lot of time with her. We built a house and moved in together, so I wasn’t around as much. I lived in a different area – a fair bit away, so you couldn’t just jump on a train for twenty minutes and then be together in a pub.
HOWITZER: Eventually – around mid-2005 – Ryan went, ‘That’s it. I’m out.’
DARRAGH: I was pretty taken aback and saddened when I heard the news. I loved Ryan’s guitar style and his way of playing thrash-oriented riffs with a black metal edge. Ryan is one of the most sarcastic smartarses I’ve ever met, and I think he’s fucking brilliant for it. But one thing I find important to get across here is that my disappointment came from being a fan of GOSPEL rather than running the label they were on. That’s kind of how I still approach them to this day.
A few months later, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS – as a three-piece – opened for DISMEMBER on the Swedish death metal veterans’ October 2005 tour of Australia. I recall a few of the DISMEMBER guys wearing GOSPEL merch at the pub in Stockholm around this time, so I’d have to assume they got along well.
HOWITZER: We first met them in 2003, at a festival in Italy, and hit it off straight away. Great guys, and Chris had the absolute time of his life. DISMEMBER is his favourite band; he’s even got their logo tattooed across the top half of his back. We played with them in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. Two shows in Melbourne.
MASOCHIST: I was ecstatic, of course. What can I say? Not many people get to tour with their favourite band. ‘Never meet your idols’ is a common saying because they usually turn out disappointing. But DISMEMBER were top guys – all of ‘em. Everyone had a great time: we took them out on a boat for the day, fishing and drinking. And the shows were amazing.
HELLCUNT: As soon as I heard that Bleed Records were bringing DISMEMBER over, I started pushing for the GOSPEL support. Those Aussie gigs were killer; the Sydney show in particular was crazy. The DISMEMBER guys came back to my place and partied with us. They were here for a good time and knew how to drink.
MASOCHIST: I remember driving my old V8 to the Melbourne Zoo, and Matti Kärki went, ‘Here, I have a present for you. Put this CD on.’ They had recently finished “Where Ironcrosses Grow”, and it sounded killer. It was like, ‘Fuck! I’m sitting here with the singer of my favourite death metal band, listening to their new album. Unbelievable.’
MARAUDER: The DISMEMBER tour was the first time I saw GOSPEL without me. It felt a bit weird, but the show was good. Then Hushy (Hexx) moved down to Melbourne and offered to take over for me in case they wanted to keep going.
Hexx was the guitarist of a Brisbane-based black/thrash band called TRENCH HELL, with whom he’d recorded a demo tape called “Alcoholic Disaster” the year before. He spent his formative years in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and was a few years younger than the GOSPEL members.
HEXX: When I was growing up, all the Aussie metalheads were into GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, DESTRÖYER 666, and BESTIAL WARLUST. After Ryan left, GOSPEL played at Bloodlust Festival in Sydney as a three-piece. I was drinking with them and overheard Cunty saying, ‘We have to get another guitarist.’ My ears sort of perked up, like, ‘Wow, I wanna do that!’ We talked about it, and Coz kinda seeded the idea of me joining. I lived in Brisbane at the time, so I decided to pack up my shit and move to Melbourne in the chance that I’d get to join GOSPEL.
Did you have any other band experience than TRENCH HELL?
HEXX: Recording-wise, no. I’d been in a cover band where we played FROST and SLAYER and things like that. I was also part of a Brisbane band called CARBON; they had that raw black metal sound that I grew up listening to. I enjoyed playing with them but wasn’t really into the whole corpse-paint aesthetic. I had some live experience with URGRUND and TOXIC HOLOCAUST, but I’d mainly been trying to get TRENCH HELL off the ground.
HOWITZER: By late 2005, we’d started realising that GOSPEL needed a second guitarist. Hushy already lived in Melbourne by then and would often come around to drink and party with us. So, it was the same thing as when we chose Chris: the obvious candidate was right in front of us. Before then, we hadn’t even considered anyone else.
HEXX: When I moved to Melbourne, we’d drink and have a good time together. However, there was still no invitation to try out for GOSPEL. A few years earlier, I’d shaved my head – which I do occasionally – and my hair was just growing out again. When I finally joined, I remember asking, ‘Why did it take so long? I’ve been down here for a while now.’ And Coz replied, ‘Oh, I had to wait for your hair to grow longer, boy!’ <laughs> ‘Alright, fair enough.’
MASOCHIST: Since I lived a bit away from the rest, it was mostly Marcus and Coz who initiated the whole Hushy thing. We might have met before, but I didn’t know him.
HEXX: I’ve always been a fan of Ryan’s guitar playing; his style is so unique and unlike anything else. I was only a suburb away, so I’d go over there to drink and listen to Ryan’s massive record collection. Once I’d joined GOSPEL, I asked him to help me with some of the earlier stuff. That’s when I realised what had happened on “A Call to Arms” with Chris and Ryan trying to play together. He taught me his shit, and I sort of adopted the up-picking – but in a way that would gel with Chris.
MARAUDER: I was totally supportive of it. Hushy came by my house one night, and I showed him all the guitar bits he didn’t get. Clearly, he gave GOSPEL a real kick up the arse because “Realm of the Damned” came together very fast. Like, quicker than we ever got anything done before.
HEXX: <laughs> It didn’t go all that smoothly straight away. In fact, the first rehearsal was a bit of a disaster. Chris asked, ‘You got any riffs?’ to which I said, ‘Not at the moment.’ Coz goes, ‘Well, I don’t know’, and Cunty is like, ‘Me neither.’ Then we started jamming the old songs, running through the live set. I was fucking loving it but could tell that the others were like, ‘Man, we’ve been playing these for so long now.’
HOWITZER: We had to revisit the old tracks – which were the mainstay of our live shows back then – to get Hushy up to speed. However, what the band truly needed was a major injection of creative energy.
HEXX: We packed up after a while; I went home, and it was just real shit. Then I thought, ‘Fuck this, I’m not gonna let it die just like that!’ So, I fucking dug in and pulled out a couple of riffs and showed ‘em to Cozzy maybe a week later. As he listened, I could see the energy rise in him again, and he was getting all stoked.
HOWITZER: Hushy moved in with us, which was great for songwriting. He had a four-track machine so we could write riffs at home; I’d give him ideas, play some drum patterns, and whatever. Hushy and I churned out three songs in the first week we lived together – and that got Chris motivated.
HEXX: I guess the new input put a bit of fire up their arses. Coz was helping me a lot with the arrangements. Marcus wasn’t living at the house then; he moved in later. But that sort of got the ball rolling. Then, Chris opened up a bit more and brought out some riffs, and everything started flowing and working well. I don’t know how, but it just did – and I was determined to make it fucking happen.
HELLCUNT: Hushy was pretty involved, actually. He and Coz wrote three songs within the first week or so, and then Chris came up with a few more. It was about fifty-fifty on that record.
MASOCHIST: I had some old riff ideas on tape, but I think just the knowledge of ‘We gotta record an album now, and for the past several years we’ve done nothing’ kicked us into gear. A few of those songs were written within a matter of days. Back then, when I wanted to do something – if I was fully in the vibe – I could really pump out riffs.
DARRAGH: They sent me regular updates, and there was lots of enthusiasm. As much as I love Ryan’s riffs, I think Cozzy’s kind of MOTÖRHEAD and CELTIC FROST-type rhythm has always been the driving force of GOSPEL. And Coz was very much focused on getting the record done; he seemed super excited, and that became contagious. I was in contact with Hushy a fair bit as well, and he was very driven.
In February 2006, the new line-up of GOSPEL OF THE HORNS performed live at the Green Room in Melbourne.
HELLCUNT: We played with SEBASROCKETS – a killer rock band from Melbourne, and great mates of ours. They advertised the gig as chicks getting in for free, so the place was packed. That was a fun night.
HEXX: That worked out great. Everyone loved the show, which was real important to me. The music had to work live – that’s why I was so drawn to GOSPEL OF THE HORNS in the first place. They just had this killer fucking stage formula that was like no other. All those bands did: GOSPEL, DESTRÖYER… you know, half of the appeal was how they portrayed their songs live.
GOSPEL OF THE HORNS recorded “Realm of the Damned” at Melbourne’s Toyland Studios in September 2006.
HEXX: Back in Brisbane, my housemate had a studio setup where he’d record bands like PORTAL, GRENADE, and TRENCH HELL, so I had a rough idea of how things worked. But when we walked into this place… ‘Shit, really? Wow.’ It was definitely my introduction to professional studios. I think Chris had recorded there with HELLSPAWN before. That was a challenging time for me because I had a specific sound in my head – but it’s tough with so many others involved.
HELLCUNT: It was a bit rushed due to a tight deadline, but that album still came out really well. “Eve of the Conqueror” is my favourite GOSPEL release, but I prefer “Realm of the Damned” over “A Call to Arms”.
HEXX: For the cover art, we hired this guy called Bobby. Coz wanted a theme similar to “Eve…” with the goat and whatever else. I remember us sitting around a table at the house when we received this image via email… me and Coz went completely silent and just looked at each other. ‘Nah, this isn’t gonna fucken happen.’ So, we contacted Simon Berserker, and he smashed out the album cover in very little time, thankfully, which saved that situation.
MARAUDER: They needed some of my artwork too, so I was privy to the entire process. The plan was for every GOSPEL release to have those little demons holding different weapons. So, I gave them new drawings – but they used the old ones instead, which ruined the whole continuity. Regardless, I loved the album; I thought it was fucking great.
It’s interesting to note that the music sounds unmistakably GOSPEL – despite the absence of Ryan Marauder.
MASOCHIST: It had to be that way! If we didn’t write in that style, like… <hums epic galloping beat>, as if you’re riding a horse, it just wouldn’t be GOSPEL. By then, I’d played in the band for years and knew its vibe and how the music should sound. I’m really pleased with “Realm of the Damned” and was proud as hell when Ryan told me he liked it.
HEXX: After that session over at Ryan’s house, I knew what GOSPEL was about and where it needed to go. I mean, everybody hates those fucking bands that get new members and then completely change. So, once I understood Ryan’s riffing – that unique style of black metal up-picking – everything I wrote for GOSPEL was one hundred per cent inspired by his playing.
DARRAGH: I fucking loved it. I remember the first time I put on “Realm of the Damned” and just sat there… after an intro, the first song – “Aggression for Blood” – is instrumental, which I thought was a bold and daring move for an underground band.
HEXX: From memory, “Aggression for Blood” was the first song I wrote. I always liked the way Cunty does his bullet beat and wanted to incorporate some of that. I had the idea of using it as the album opener. Coz had a lot of control over the track order, but that one seemed to work perfectly in setting the mood for what the new GOSPEL was gonna be like.
DARRAGH: Production-wise, the punch that might’ve been missing on “A Call to Arms” is definitely there; those black-thrash riffs are all over the place. In terms of energy, aggression, and vitality, “Realm of the Damned” has it all. It’s a really lively record: so full of life. To me, it was the perfect step forward for GOSPEL OF THE HORNS.
With a solid comeback album taking form within just a few months, one might be tempted to think that Hexx managed to bring some manner of order to the chaos.
HEXX: Bringing any semblance of order to that band just wasn’t possible <laughs>. Me and Coz were a pretty fuckin’ dangerous outfit. Like, I haven’t thought about this shit for years now, but it was madness. Alcohol, drugs – everything mixed into one. And then trying to do the band and live together at the same time; it was wild.
Craziness aside, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS performed a number of shows both in Melbourne and interstate – such as their fourth appearance at Metal for the Brain.
HEXX: Coz and I, plus someone else, drove up, and it didn’t take more than ten minutes before we got into it. By the time we arrived in Canberra, both of us were off our heads. We had to play the next day, but I’m pretty sure that Coz and I stayed up all night – aside from me passing out in the car park and backstage and everywhere else. I think we were the only extreme metal band playing that year; the rest was just ordinary shit.
The 2006 edition – the last Metal for the Brain – was headlined by the likes of I KILLED THE PROM QUEEN, SKINLESS, FRANKENBOK, and CAPTAIN CLEANOFF.
HEXX: That festival was something everybody travelled to from around the country just to hang out; it wasn’t always about the bands. Metal for the Brain was my favourite of all the gigs we’d done – that’s where the gatefold photo of “Realm of the Damned” comes from. But just like all the other shows, I woke up the day after not knowing what the fuck happened. You know, I have addiction issues where I… <laughs> There’s no moderation, I guess you could say.
HOWITZER: We stayed active and played a lot of gigs – both interstate and around Melbourne. We rehearsed twice a week, every week, flat out. The first six months were really positive, but things eventually went a bit haywire.
HEXX: Melbourne is a different place, man. I grew up in a small country town and had previously lived in Canberra and Brisbane. When I got to Melbourne, I would’ve been twenty-five years old. It’s crazy how the social life there went on non-stop throughout the week; everyone was partying, and it just fucking ate me up and spat me right out.
MARAUDER: You’d have to ask the other guys what happened. I know they were having some personal arguments; they all lived together, and Hushy’s got a bit of a temper on him. I never actually got to the bottom of what happened, but I think there was an altercation.
HEXX: The house we shared – 410 Buckley Street – was absolute madness… everything stupid you can imagine happened there. When I moved in, Coz lived with one of his girlfriends, which was alright. But when Marcus joined us, that was the end of it. We were constantly partying and carrying on. Unfortunately, I started having these little fits: what I called ‘zombie attacks’. One night, I apparently smashed our barbecue. I only know it happened because Coz told me the next day, but I don’t understand why he didn’t just fucking knock me out or something.
MASOCHIST: There was a lot of crap going on between the three of them. I didn’t know the full extent of it because I’d sort of taken a backward step. As I said, I lived nowhere near the other guys and rarely saw them apart from rehearsals or shows.
HOWITZER: We had a few internal problems in late December, and then a week or so later, it blew up again.
HELLCUNT: One night after we’d been drinking ouzo shots, there was a drunken argument that blew up big-time. Words were exchanged, and a few household items ended up smashed.
MASOCHIST: Hushy called and asked me to come pick him up – apparently, he’d been fighting with Coz and Marcus. I can’t recall exactly what was said or what happened, but Hushy was leaving GOSPEL. I remember thinking, ‘This is fucked.’
HEXX: It was a strange situation. I can’t recall any details, but I know Chris came to pick me up. We went back to his place and phoned Darragh from Invictus . I distinctly remember saying, ‘Sorry, there’s no way I can tour Europe with these guys.’ Darragh – who is a great guy – was really supportive. He wasn’t pissed off or anything.
The following day, January 10, 2007 – one month before the release of “Realm of the Damned” – Blabbermouth announced that GOSPEL OF THE HORNS had disbanded.
HOWITZER: I was just as surprised as anyone. For some reason, Hushy contacted Invictus and a couple of promoters and told them that GOSPEL had split up – which wasn’t at all the case.
HEXX: You know, if Chris and I hadn’t made that call, things might have developed differently. My guess is that we would’ve just laughed it off and moved on. But everything escalated so quickly, and… to be honest, it was over really stupid drunken shit.
HELLCUNT: It was very unfortunate. At this point, we were all extremely excited and keen with how things were progressing.
HEXX: Once I woke up the next morning and realised that we’d already contacted Invictus, with Darragh setting the wheels in motion, it was pretty much end of story. I suppose he had to cancel shows immediately because I’m pretty sure there were gigs lined up in Europe.
HOWITZER: Hushy was out of the house at that stage but had to come by to pick up his stuff. It was a pretty hideous time. Of course, this came down to Marcus, Hushy, and I living, partying, and rehearsing together; it just became too much. No finger-pointing here: all three of us share the blame.
HEXX: A hundred per cent. And probably a little more on my end because I’ve got a really short fuse. But it was definitely a case of living together and giving each other so much shit all the time. And then dealing with the new record, organising a European tour… everything surrounding “Realm of the Damned” happened in that fucking house. Album problems, gigs getting cancelled – you name it. There was always some kind of pressure mounting within the GOSPEL camp.
HOWITZER: All good now, though. Hushy played many great shows with us, and those are fond memories. He also wrote some damn fine songs.
HEXX: It was killer for the most part; we made an amazing album together and got along well ninety per cent of the time. But yeah, the way it ended felt shit because all I wanted to do was get this whole GOSPEL thing going. Had I been a bit older and more experienced, it might’ve… like I said, I was young – I simply wasn’t ready for a band like GOSPEL OF THE HORNS.