North Dakota is a land of musical extremes. On the one hand the state has produced Lawrence Welk. I defy you to play Welk’s “Bubbles in the Wine” and not get the urge to put on your dandiest Searsucker suit so you can take your sweetest gal on a stroll around the park. On the other hand we have Gorgatron. Play the Fargoan band’s song “Impostor Syndrome” and you’ll feel like beating rabid bears to death with your fists while lighting steel drums filled with Tannerite.
Gorgatron is pure death metal. When their guitarists Paul Johnson or Neal Stein lace into a solo, there is a decent chance they might inadvertently ignite the atmosphere. Matt Johnson’s drums sound like Hades’s heartbeat after he has finished running a marathon. Vocalist Karl “Rice Grinder” Schmidt’s guttural beltings evoke raw, primal fervors, and bassist Cameron Dewald plays like this:
“I’m from a musical family,” said Cameron. “My dad grew up playing the blues in Chicago’s South Side, and even worked with legends like B.B. King and Miles Davis. Then I came along a few years later. Getting into BMX and skateboard culture meant I got converted over to hardcore punk music at an early age – the gateway drug to death metal. But even though my dad’s world of funk and blues is the polar opposite from death metal, aren’t they both rock and roll at the end of the day?
“Death metal guitar is surprisingly close to classical string music in theory. There’s just a lot more distortion than would suit a Bach suite. A drummer has to be an athlete as much as he is a musician, constantly trying to increase the number of beats per minute he can pull off. The style of singing is probably the most distinctive. There’s this old saying: ‘Brutal vocals for brutal music.’ When you’re playing music that sounds like heavy machinery crashing into each other in the pits of hell, you can’t exactly have Celine Dion singing along to it.
“Death metal is a double edged sword. Gorgatron’s morbid, frantic, haunting themes can give some people a real anxiety hangover. The title of our song “Visions Externalized” sums up that feeling pretty well. But to a metalhead, frenzied drumming and throaty screaming are the perfect thing to zen out to. Different strokes, am I right?
“We do our best to deliver a sonic punch right into our audience’s faces. A lot of people are surprised by the complexity of the topics we cover in our lyrics, though. We’ve got songs about self-doubt and paranoia. A lot of our fans can really relate to “Thrasher Basher,” which is about a regular guy who works a regular nine-to-five so he can get drunk and party on the weekends. Some of our songs are decidedly less relatable, too. “Pathogenic Automation ” is about a crazed military general turning prisoners of war into cybernetic soldiers, and Karl really likes writing songs about ninjas.
“Death metal might seem like a serious person’s music where everyone is always wearing a frown. Our concerts tell a totally different story, just so many people excited to thrash and feel the energy. And when we were playing a show in Vegas, and I looked out and to see someone in the audience mouthing the lyrics to a song we wrote? I don’t know … that’s probably the most humbling feeling a band from Podunk, North Dakota could ever ask for. Wherever we play, we know our fans like they’re old friends.”
Gorgatron is available to play live at ragers, bashes, blowouts, and bar mitzvahs. To learn more about the band and reach out to them, please visit gorgatronband.com.
By David Scheller