Dying Fetus on breaking the mainstream

Dyin Fetus

Whenever I hang with people from normal walks of life, if they bring up what I do, it’s always an interesting conversation. They’re like, ‘Sorry, what was the name of the band?’ ha ha ha!” Being a professional musician is indubitably at the pretty fucking cool end of the employment spectrum. as a member of Dying Fetus for the last 16 years, co-vocalist, bassist and lyricist Sean Beasley has managed to forge an enduring career in heavy music. alongside his bandmates, co-vocalist/guitarist and founder member John Gallagher, and drummer Trey Williams, he has travelled the world and performed in front of all manner of disparate audiences.

In 2013, thanks to a naïve but endearing comment about their suitability for topping the bill at Download festival made online by one loyal British fan, the maryland trio enjoyed a brief moment of ephemeral fame in the UK, as ‘Why not Dying Fetus?’ got fully memed and Andy Copping did the decent thing and booked the band for an opening Main Stage slot on that hallowed Donington turf.

But instead of disappearing back into the underground shadows when mainstream pundits turned their attention to the next trundling bandwagon, Dying Fetus took that momentum and ran with it. as we speak to Sean and John, they are in the midst of a European tour as main support to hatebreed: something that most insanely brutal death metal bands could never dream of doing, let alone doing with great success. “This is actually our third tour with Hatebreed, the first one in Europe, so there’s camaraderie there,” John drawls, blearily and pre-morning coffee. “Their crew’s looking out for us, we get better catering, and we’re playing in better venues than most death metal bands. So right now we’re living large and I can’t say this tour is hard work.

“But you still have to want to do it, I guess. Jamey [Jasta, Hatebreed frontman] has been a fan of the band for a while and he supports death metal. But I wish there were more bands outside of death metal that we could tour with. I must admit, it’s a challenge. as soon as we start doing our vocals and the blastbeats, it does get a bit extreme for a normal rock’n’roll listener, ha ha ha!”

It’s hard not to snort derisively when arena-level bands start pissing and whining about the rigours of life on the road. For Dying Fetus, 26 years after forming in John Gallagher’s native Maryland, constant touring and a laudable dedication to reaching as many people as possible has become the only way for a band this extreme to survive. Grabbing opportunities like a tour with Hatebreed represents the glossier end of what this three-man wrecking crew have to contend with, and yet neither John nor Sean have any complaints. In keeping with the death metal scene’s tradition of hard work and humility, this is simply what being in a band is all about.

“Huge bands play three days a week and they have time to rest,” shrugs Sean. “Whereas we play every day, more or less. a day off means we’re losing money. So you have to take good care of yourself or you can’t keep doing this. If you get trashed every night, it’s hard to get up every day and have wobbly knees onstage. But it’s a general thing for most bands to consider, whether they can live out of a bag or not. It’s all good if you can handle that. But for the three of us it’s been eight years, and it’s been very good. It’s all been easy, from locking in together to play the songs, to getting along when we’re on the road. everything clicked and it’s stayed that way. hopefully it continues.”

As they start to nudge, somewhat audaciously, at the metal mainstream, Dying Fetus could hardly be in a better collective frame of mind. It’s obvious that Sean, John and Trey are a finely honed and harmonious unit – not least from the absolutely deranged levels of precise, deathly violence that they exhibit on their first album in five years. charmingly titled Wrong One To Fuck With, the follow-up to 2012’s Reign Supreme is, alarmingly, the most righteously eviscerating record the band have ever made.

Their trademarks are all present and correct – vicious blastbeats, guttural vocals and, most importantly, those mosh-friendly ‘chug parts’ – but while most bands aiming for a higher rung on the metal ladder would consider mellowing out or writing a catchy chorus or two, Dying Fetus have done the exact opposite, making this their nastiest and most unrelenting collection of pit-inciting anti-anthems yet.

For Sean, who writes all the band’s lyrics, the new album is both a multifaceted response to how undeniably fucked-up the planet is right now and a good opportunity to delve into the more twisted side of the band’s conceptual world. “I guess it’s more on the brutal side this time, lyrically, but there’s still some politics on there,” he nods. “We have the song Wrong One To Fuck With and also Die With Integrity, and those have this super-dark mob-style vibe to them. But the rest of the songs are about different shit. There’s a song called Fallacy, which is about Hollywood pop culture, and how anyone super-famous can get away with anything, as long as they go through the steps and apologise publicly. I was thinking of [famous NFL quarterback] michael Vick in football. he was involved in dog-fighting, he gets busted and then goes to jail for a year and half, and then he says he’s found God. He comes out and he’s a fuckin’ hero, you know? It’s a fucking joke. If he was a regular person, he would still be in jail.”

One of the drawbacks of being an underground band with a mildly offensive name is that the potential to cross over to a bigger audience is minimal at best. But something significant has happened in metal over the last 15 years: whether you call them deathcore, modern death metal or some other vaguely accurate epithet, many of the most exciting bands to emerge have made no bones about their debt to Dying Fetus.

Along with fellow purveyors of ‘slam’ (essentially brutal death metal with groovy breakdowns designed for the moshpit) such as Internal Bleeding, John Gallagher’s crew kickstarted an entirely new mode of death metal expression back in the 90s, and the ripples from that blast are still being felt today. “I think what we basically did was to have elements of Suffocation and a lot of the slam stuff that was going on, but we also took some influence from carcass,” John recalls. “Those guys were singing with two vocals and that brought another element into it, so we just embellished what was going on, putting our twist on everything. I never went at it thinking, ‘I’m gonna do something completely different!’ We’ve toured with Despised Icon and carnifex, and they credit us as some kind of influence. I just think it’s really important to have the next generation, the new generation, being down with your stuff. That’s the only way you’re gonna remain relevant, so we are thankful for that.”

They’ve conquered Download, toured with Hatebreed and discovered that there are a lot of people around the world that really, really like death metal. But Dying Fetus are not daft: they know there’s a limit to the success a band can have playing this music, but they carry on regardless because they fucking love it. “Getting bigger isn’t easy for us, not with our name!” Sean chuckles. “But it’s like the new album title. Is it offensive? Who cares? We do what we do. There’ll be no more beating around the bush! We’re optimistic about the future, but also realistic. We’re still playing death metal and we love it, so we’ll keep doing it. optimism only goes so far, ha ha!”

The fact is, they’ve survived for a quarter of a century doing things their own way, and as the world seems to become more brutal and extreme, it’s not hard to imagine Dying Fetus’s music resonating with more and more people as time goes on. “We’re just doing what we want to do and touring where we want to, taking things as they come,” John concludes. “That’s how it started at the beginning. We had our day jobs and we’d have fun with the band, playing the stuff that we wanted to hear. We’re doing much more and much bigger things these days, but the spirit is the same as ever. We just want everything to be brutal.”

Wrong One To Fuck With is out now via Relapse. Dying Fetus tour the UK from November 3.

Reign Supreme

Never really listened to Dying Fetus, despite their veteran status? here’s your ultimate guide…

THE ANTHEM: In The Trenches (Reign Supreme, 2012) an irresistible slab of hardcore-tinged brutality, it sounds like Hatebreed possessed by Satan and plugged into the National Grid. If this doesn’t make you bang your head, you don’t have a head.

THE ALBUM: Destroy The Opposition (Relapse, 2000) hugely influential and groundbreaking, the third Dying Fetus album emerged at the dawn of the 21st century and gave death metal a massive kick up the arse. Pit-inciting grooves, excoriating blastbeats, monstrous breakdowns… oof!

THE VIDEO: Panic Amongst The Herd (2017) against the odds, cult video maker mount emult’s eye-frazzling animated collage makes this highlight from the band’s new Wrong One To Fuck With album even more intense and bewildering. extreme tune, extreme visuals, total brain-fuck.

THE SHIRT: Curb Stomp Death metal was never supposed to be cuddly. Inspired by vicious fan favourite Subjected To A Beating, this shirt echoes that scene in American History X and is guaranteed to upset your grandma. Job done.

THE HASHTAG: #whynotdyingfetus (2013) The #whynotdyingfetus campaign began as a piss-take but people power ensured that the band opened the main stage at Donington in 2014. Win.

Dying Fetus - Wrong One To Fuck With album review

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.