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Burning Brighter: A Conversation With Mark Whelan of Fuming Mouth

With a new outlook, new perspective, and a new album, the multi-faceted frontman aims high for a grand full-length return.

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Words by Luis (@HeaviestOfArt):

As significant as it is to reflect and learn from our lived experiences, it's as significant to look ahead and stray from dwelling upon the negative. "I'm in a place of excitement again," notes Fuming Mouth frontman Whelan. "I feel like anything's possible."

On November 3rd, Fuming Mouth released Last Day of Sun via Nuclear Blast Records — a culminating release that is a symbol of triumph, a beacon of hope, and a downright crushing release eager to electrify any venues it hits. Whelan, guitarist and vocalist for the New England death metal unit, underwent a near-death Leukemia diagnosis in between album cycles, putting Fuming Mouth on hold for a frightening moment. From there rose a Whelan with eyes set on returning for a first full-length in 4 years and the first album with Nuclear Blast as a partner. The end result is one Last Day of Sun that comes guns blazing with a universal message to be heard (and felt).

Last we spoke to Whelan, excitement was high with a recent Nuclear Blast Recordings signing and the notable Beyond The Tomb (2020) EP. Each album cycle is of course representative of a musician’s state of mind at the time, and it's evident that the Last Day of Sun is the byproduct of a victory over cancer, a newfound being invigorated to excel and invest himself whole into his artistic craft.

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Photograph by Blackcardfilms

Given my years seeing my mother fight through and beat leukemia twice, I'm able to empathize strongly because of how heavy the experience is on the body, mind, and soul. No one leaves that battle being the same person they were before, indicating perhaps a sense of realization for the survivor after having undergone a significant undertaking, such as releasing an album. After seeing Last Day of Sun all the way through and now giving it new life on the road, one could say that said realization hits home for a Whelan set on excelling.

"The last song on the album, 'Postfigurement', is about that realization," he mentions. "There is only existence. You can talk to yourself in your head all day. You can pray all you want. You can think all you want. You can use logic and be the smartest person in the room. None of that matters. We all exist here together and anything besides existing in the moment is going against survival."

Whelan's words of wisdom are cutthroat, but honest and cathartic. especially upon seeing the new material circulate, be dissected, and be felt by many around the world after being so emotionally and physically invested. "Honestly, it feels confusing. So much of the praise has been so high and the hate has been so low that it makes it strange. I can't tell who genuinely cares about it or who is actually secretly loving it and trying to pretend like they don't. It's brought on just as much stress as it's brought on relief."

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"Last Day of Sun" Full Cover Illustration by Khaos Diktator Design

Regardless of the mixed reception and online discourse, there's a unique feeling to be had when seeing the fruits of your labor in the flesh. It begins with the artwork and for Last Day of Sun, Fuming Mouth enlisted acclaimed metal illustrator Stefan Todorovic of Khaos Diktator Design who brought apocalypse to life. "Opening the vinyl gatefold up and looking at all the lyrics, the inside image, and the credits was amazing though. Seeing that in print was a moment of not only catharsis, but pride." With a gatefold spread that grand to accompany a hard hitting soundtrack, pride is guaranteed.

The partnership with Khaos Diktator marks a transition from the great Mariusz Lewandowski, who passed away this last year. It’s a harrowing piece apt for the record it represents. Its great sense of scale, detail, and symbolism indicates a strong wealth of influence to be had. Todorovic's work was intentional and serves as a fitting extension of death metal it fronts. "The film 'Faust' from 1926 has always been the main goal, inspiration, and influence for how we wanted the album art to look. When I reached out to Stefan his first words to me were 'Your concept idea is one of my favorite scenes from, visually, one of my favorite movies. I already have various clear visions coming through my mind.' He and I immediately knew what we wanted the album art to look like. We took those Faustian ideas and applied it to a town in utter destruction and panic as opposed to a quiet town which most Faustians depict."

Whelan and Todorovic's collaboration was fluent and resulted in a piece worth owning on vinyl for it serves as a strong visual companion to the lyricism and an expansive illustration worthy of standalone praise. The art is intersectional to the music with the record narrating the impending doom. "The big winged bat devil represents the monster in life that people ignore. That's a theme that constantly appears on the album. Having to face your fears. Having to face that monster. The art and the record are constantly intersecting like that. 'The Sign of Pain' for example is depicted on the front with the church cracking and steeple falling. 'Out of Time' is depicted by the clock tower to the right of the church with no hands on the clock. The songs themselves tie into the art very deliberately."

Whelan notes only a few points of connection between the two elements with the rest to be found by a keen audience. Last Day of Sun is the type of release with a treasure trove of detail just waiting to unfold with each passing listen (and glance).

As aggressive and confrontational as the audiovisuals appear to be, there are moments of vulnerability throughout, like with lead single and standout offering, "I'll Find You”.

One could say it’s an act of reflection for a moment where it seemed life was fading away — a pivotal turning point moment. When putting those emotions into words and using a hard-fought cancer experience as a driving force, the end result stands as heart-wrenching and deliberate. "It was so fast and visceral," says Whelan. "In the last few days at the studio, it all hit me like a lightning bolt. I can't explain how feverishly I would write all the lyrics in my notebook. I have this yellow notebook that I got from a CVS and I put this metallic silver skull sticker on it and wrote 'Last Day of Sun' all around it. The yellow notebook would make me think about the sun and remind me to seize the moment and live in the album."

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Photograph by Blackcardfilms

There’s a duality between the songs, like the contrasting Leaving Euphoria and Kill The Disease, which are more inspirational and uplifting than their impassioned counterparts. There's a balance to be had between vulnerability and aggression, and Fuming Mouth identifies it and exists firmly within it. Whelan was dialed in, allowing his heart to speak through a writing process that treads all ends of the emotional spectrum. "Fuming Mouth is an extreme band and in my mind that contrast should be just as extreme. I want the music to be overtly aggressive and overtly vulnerable. Even a song like 'Leaving Euphoria', while rather depressing and quiet, is an aggressive fuck you to everyone I've ever met just as 'Kill the Disease' is extremely vulnerable in saying an absolute like 'cancer can't kill me'. It's necessary to not only have that contrast but to have symbiosis."

As mentioned prior, musicians are often in a certain headspace prior to entering the writing and recording process. By the time of release, they’re in a different one, and Fuming Mouth has been performing new tracks and old staples across North America as a step in the right direction. Though one never fully leaves behind a cancer, it serves as a learning lesson and foundational example that anything truly is possible. With how enraptured Whelan was throughout the Last Day of Sun creative cycle, one could argue that touring on the record is the final step of detachment. Upon tour conclusion, a new cycle begins, a new era of opportunity with a new outlook on life primed to make its way onto a release that will explore yet another side of the musician's psyche. Until then, there's much to be taken from Last Day of Sun. "I'm so glad we saw it through," concludes Whelan. "Through all the doubt and uncertainty, there is hope."

Last Day of Sun is available now via Nuclear Blast (Listen).

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Cover Artwork by Stefan Todorović (Khaos Diktator Design)


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