Harnessing from the golden era of death for a spectacle on all fronts.
Time and time again, death metal continues to grow and develop with a renaissance of sorts playing out before our very eyes. Whether it be old school worship or genre bridging composition, acts both new and old deliver top tier efforts on a near weekly basis, positioning the deadliest of metal subgenres at the pinnacle of the scene. For those of us who missed the late 80's/early 90's period of Kent Mathieu and Dan Seagrave fronted records, there are bands who unearth those qualities for a modern time. Among those is SKELETAL REMAINS, a powerhouse of Floridian-like aggression.
From their humble inception as ANTHROPOPHAGY to their now redefined ranks, SKELETAL REMAINS have been at the forefront of LA's death metal underground with a discography and work ethic that has taken them across the world to support their own inspirations. The unit look to continue their hot streak with their forthcoming record, The Entombment of Chaos, which arrives on September 11th via Century Media Records. Before you even engage with the 11-track riff-fest, you'll come face to face with a sprawling world of decaying lifeforms, illustrated by the one and only Dan Seagrave (DISMEMBER, ENTOMBED, etc.). With dynamic structure weaved throughout their hymns and a cover so devilishly intricate and reminiscent of a classic, SKELETAL REMAINS are here to prove their worth in true old school fashion.
We go Behind the Cover of The Entombment of Chaos with SKELETAL REMAINS frontman Chris Monroy and renowned artist Dan Seagrave to dive further into the making of this audiovisual assault:
Skeletal Remains is set to enter a new era with ‘The Entombment of Chaos’, an era marked by a new label, a new lineup with Mike De La O, and more importantly, one of your strongest musical outputs to date. Now 9 years in, where do you see the band now?
Monroy: With time, the band has really matured, especially since we’ve been at it for about 9 to 10 years. When this band started, it wasn’t supposed to be that serious because I was in a different project that was somewhat of a full time gig. I was constantly touring and found myself busy all the time.
Mike and I went to high school together and grew up together. We’ve always been huge death metal fans and were always covering all of these songs we would listen to. When I wasn’t touring, we’d hang out, drink, and play covers and shit, which is really how Skeletal Remains got started. We never thought the band would ever get this far. It was supposed to be more of a hobby when we were bored and I’m really happy with where the band stands now. It surprises me every time I think about it because I never thought this band would ever get as far to do the things we’ve done, like tour with Obituary and some of our biggest influences.
We are representing the LA scene in death metal. There’s obviously a lot of death metal bands here and I wouldn’t compare us to the legendary Sadistic Intent. I’m talking more about the younger generation, people our age. There weren’t really many death metal bands when we came out, which is why we wanted to start one. There were a few but not many doing it in the style that we wanted to do it in, which was the Florida style.
That’s a perfect segue into my following point. It’s a wonderful time for death metal with bands both new and old dominating the scene with great releases. Seeing as you’re part of this newfound movement, where do you see the genre now and moving forward?
Monroy: Death metal is currently a lot bigger than it was 8 or 10 years ago when we were first coming up. There were a few good death metal records, but it was mostly the technical leaning stuff. The whole old school worship style that we were going for is definitely coming back. You see a lot of really good bands doing it right now. I wasn’t around in the 90’s when death metal was in a golden era, but I think it’s just as big or getting to that point. Obviously, you had different stuff supporting it back then like MTV, which was huge. I mean shit, you could see a fucking Morbid Angel, Death, or even a Carcass video on regular TV. You now have different platforms, like YouTube, which are just as important. That said, death metal is only getting bigger.
In the last 2 or 3 years, our fanbase has grown so much. Most of our fanbase was actually based out of Europe. Once we signed to Century Media and Dark Descent, we started getting a lot of attention stateside. It’s been going really well. When shows were still going on, you could see multiple shows a night here in Los Angeles. For the most part, they would all be fucking packed. The scene, especially for death metal, is really strong and will hopefully stay this way for the next several years. If bands keep putting out great material, the fans will be there and continue to support.
What you’re saying is that I can’t see a Morbid Angel video on MTV now?
Monroy: Fuck no man. I don’t remember the last time I turned on MTV, but it became a whole reality show network. I was a kid when Morbid Angel and these bands were coming on. My brother, who was a big inspiration for me playing music, wasn’t as much into death metal but he recalls all of the bands because he would see them on MTV. But yeah, I don’t think you’ll see a death metal video on MTV or TV in general anytime soon.
I wouldn't doubt it. Sonically, audiences got a first taste of the heat with ‘Illusive Divinity’ but tracks like ‘Tomb of Chaos’ and ‘Eternal Hatred’ really carry it home, harnessing Pestilence and Monstrosity-like riffs for a modern time. With Noah and Mike now joining the fold, where did you all find common ground in putting this together?
Monroy: When Mike and I first started the project and wrote the first demo, he had a lot of personal stuff going on. He was married and it wasn’t the right time for him because we were about to start touring in Europe, so it was a really big job for us. He wasn’t able to do it at the time and unfortunately had to step down. Since then, we’ve always stayed in touch and he’s even come out to a few shows to hang out. When he came back to the band, I was pretty nervous because I haven’t written music with him since our first demo. I was nervous about how it would sound and about having a similar mindset because as you know, people don’t always agree with each other. However, it was exactly the opposite. It was as if we never stopped writing music together.
Noah was already helping us when we did the tour with Revocation and Voivod last year. Our guitar player from our previous lineup, Adrian, couldn’t get into Canada because he apparently had some shit on his record, so Noah helped us out. He’s an awesome dude and things just clicked with him. On that tour, he also helped cover bass towards the end because our ex-bass player, Adrian, had to step out for personal reasons.
I already had half of the record written when they came into the band. For that half of the record, it took me maybe a year after ‘Devouring Mortality’ (2018) came out to start writing new music. With the last lineup, it just wasn’t working anymore. Stuff didn’t feel right, almost like a relationship. People weren’t happy and that’s when I realized stuff had to change. With this new lineup, things just worked out for the best. This is our best record to date and the writing is a lot more mature compared to our other records. Everything has flowed together naturally. It took me about a year to write the first half of the record because we were constantly touring. I don’t like to write on tour, so I write at home, which took me about a year. Mike helped me finish the second half of the record in just two months, which is just an example of how things have worked out.
More than it being your straightforward death metal record, it tells a theological story of salvation via false pretenses. How did you approach the conceptual elements of the record seeing as death metal is often portrayed as a genre of senseless violence and aggressive musicianship?
Monroy: It really has to do with our influences. Don’t get me wrong, we have songs on our record that have themes of gore, killing, and that sort of shit because they support the record’s concept. This record is the record it is because of the stuff that went on in our personal lives at the time it was being written. There was a lot of hate we wanted to release. I think we expressed it very well with our music, making the record so aggressive.
If you read the lyrics for ‘Eternal Hatred’, they actually have a lot to do with shit that we went through personally. You could even say that the whole COVID shit and the societal paranoid had a lot of influence on the lyrics. We used all of these external factors as inspiration and crafted the songs from it.
It’s evident throughout the musicianship as well. Not only is the classic death metal influence present on the music, but in the art as well with ‘The Entombment of Chaos’ sporting yet another breathtaking Seagrave cover. Was there ever any doubt that you would partner with Seagrave again for a full-length?
Monroy: Not at all. We’ve been wanting to work with Seagrave since our first album, ‘Beyond the Flesh’ (2012), but being on a much smaller label, we didn’t have the budget. We’ve been fans of the guy forever. He did so many of the classics and we’re so used to his seeing his artwork. As you’d agree, artwork of course plays a huge role in an album. When you’re listening to the music and you gaze at the artwork, it has to somewhat blend together. Music and art go hand in hand and make an album so much better. For us to do that, we had to partner with the right artists and Seagrave was that artist for what we wanted to achieve.
There was never any doubt because of how satisfied we were with what he did for our last record. We wanted to make this record the best we’ve ever done and with Seagrave on the team, we’re certain we did it. Everything he does is jaw dropping. Same thing with Dan Swano, who mixed and mastered the record. He just understands our music and what we go for.
Upon the announcement of ‘The Entombment of Chaos’, audiences were treated to another one of your signature Seagrave worlds, worlds that have certainly left their mark across metal. Seeing as you’ve worked with bands across different eras, where do you see the genre now compared to where it was?
Seagrave: Though I haven’t heard the new Skeletal Remains record, I can tell they’re trying to capture something from the older generation, like the Entombed and Gorguts records from the 90's. The scene in general, I don’t know. In some ways, there’s not much leg room in death metal for it to shift into something else since it has to be contained within certain parameters. There’s so many splinter genres of metal now. You don’t have to go far before you find yourself into a different kind of splinter genre, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If anything has changed, it’s that. There’s so many microgenres within death metal. That’s just my observation since I can’t really speak so eloquently about the genre’s evolution itself.
You’ve really embraced these signature Seagrave atmospheres on the record with tracks like ‘Cosmic Chasm’ and ‘Enshrined in Agony’ adding suspense and utter awe to an otherwise aggressive and deadly record. Visually, what were you looking for this time around?
Monroy: From the start, we wanted the record to be a lot darker. We’ve always been fans of the sci-fi leaning atmospheres, which we kind of had on ‘Devouring’. I wanted him to focus more on that for this record. I wanted a weird looking alien, sci-fi creature, as you can see on the left hand side of the cover. I’m sure people will notice, but it’s a huge influence from the first Gorguts record, ‘Considered Dead’. Nocturnus also had the same on ‘The Key’ (1990). We wanted that kind of approach, a creature surrounded by a dark vibe.
Going by the first four songs that I wrote for the record, I knew what direction I wanted for the album. I wanted something darker than anything we’ve done before, which I explained to him via email. I sent him a variety of different artworks from the internet and even covers that he’s done as inspiration. He gave me some feedback, sent some sketches over, and finally came to an agreement, which is the cover you see today.
Usually, I prefer to have the cover done after I’ve written the lyrics. I like to put some of the lyrical ideas into the artwork so that it makes sense. This time, it was the other way around. After he completed the artwork, the whole record title, song titles, and lyrics came together. It was quite a different process, but it all worked out and I’m pretty happy about how it did.
That's interesting considering how little that happens. Dan, a signature trait from your work is again that of these worlds that you create, which are vastly detailed and atmospheric. From a visual standpoint, how do you approach the creation and layering of these landscapes?
Seagrave: There are usually two things that I’m always working on. There’s my default, which is the work that I do when I’m not making record covers. The second thing would be responding to a band, their themes, and their concepts. The concept and theme are sometimes two different things. The theme would encompass the whole record, which I don’t always get. I might get some album titles, lyrics, or an overall explanation of what the record is about. I also might not get a concept, which is a visual idea that the band might have. It can sometimes be very detailed and strict, or it can be sort of loose. Depending on what the concept or theme is, sometimes loose is better. There are times where I prefer more defined instructions. Each commission is different, so I take the information and see what happens in my mind.
Quite often, I take brief information and immediately see something in my mind and sketch it even before I take on the job. Sometimes when you get that immediate impression in your mind, it’s better to sketch it down quickly, even if the job doesn’t work out or if it’s five months down the line. It’s better to put the image down as a sketch and come back to it later because you have that nugget of inspiration. That could be the actual sketch that I work from. Sometimes, those little things are the best things, but not always. There are times I’ll do 50 sketches, depending on the job.
In interpreting your own take for ‘Entombment of Chaos’, there were some mythical and theological elements that Chris mentioned went through some perspective changes. There was also a color change. About how long did this one take to complete with the revisions made?
Seagrave: That’s right. They contacted me last March (2019), but it was one of those things where my schedule was booked for a while. The actual project, I forget when I did it. It was towards the end of last year that I worked on it. It was a good six months before I started working on it since I usually book so many things ahead of time.
There were a bunch of sketches. I usually send a photoshopped .jpeg, which would have 9 or 6 thumbnail sketches. The band was interested in a tomb that was built of bodies and rotting remains, so I started off with that being more of a close up. The angle was point of view, looking down slightly. They wanted to expand it a little bit and it became more of a scene where we’re looking up. It shaped up to be a congealed tower of corpses and different kinds of organisms, not just humans. If you think about cave paintings or the petrification of bones from eons ago, it has that sort of illusion. It has this cavernous interior and environment.
It went through a number of changes, though I wouldn’t say they were radical. The concept was pretty much there, which was the tomb being built of bodies. It then became a tomb on top of the bodies. This architecture at the top was rooted in this ancient, ‘petrificational’ concept, which is not a word but you get it.
They also wanted a creature. They referenced the Gorguts cover I did for ‘Considered Dead’. They really like that album and it was on their mind at the time. Obviously, I did want to make it different and not copy myself, so I did a number of creature sketches. It became this alien-like, insect-like hybrid type of thing.
Thank you for mentioning the creature, which leads me to my next point. These creatures are somewhat of a notable easter egg throughout some of your classic covers. A few big ones were of course included in ‘Considered Dead’ and Suffocation’s ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’ (1991). Is that something that came about naturally?
Seagrave: There’s all kinds of stuff in ‘Effigy’ to be honest. There are astrolabes, pyramids, chestboards, candles, and all other kinds of stuff. I did actually intend to do all of that stuff. In the same way, this painting has all of these different types of bodies in the main structure.
In the past like with ‘Effigy’, I didn’t focus so much on design. I did some sketches but I wasn’t as bothered back then with the overall composition. These days, I try to really lock down the overall structural shapes because that’s what holds the painting together from a distance. If you’re seeing the cover from a distance, it has to hold a graphic shape. It’s just a compositional thing that you learn over time. All of the details are improvised, which is what I consider the fun stuff. You can just make stuff up. There are things in there that I don’t even know why I did. I’d have to go back and look at my own work to figure out why I did it. You have to go into a bit of a trance or relaxed state of mind where you’re not overthinking what you’re doing all the time and the details just come with an organic flow to it. When you get good at something, you’re not thinking about the process too much. You just allow things to channel through.
They just subconsciously happen.
Seagrave: Exactly. There’s a lot of that happening.
Seeing as this is now your second consecutive cover together, it would appear you’ve struck a good partnership. What can you comment about your working relationship?
Monroy: We have nothing but good things to say about him. Not saying that there’s artists out there that are dicks, but he’s been nothing but professional and great. He always tells it how it is. He’s a really busy guy, so if you want to work with him, you have to let him know months ahead. He’s always kept his word on everything and is very flexible with feedback. I don’t see us working with someone else anytime soon.
Seagrave: It’s been very good. They’re very communicative and easy to work with. As you mentioned earlier, we changed the colors on this one. I’ve only done this once before on the ‘Dead Throne’ (2011) cover I did for The Devil Wears Prada. The reason I did it was because they asked for a green palette, which I actually had in mind. I went off piece and just did a different palette that used more red and brown. That was my fault, so I just adjusted it on photoshop.
With ‘Entombment of Chaos’, the initial color scheme was based on another painting. I don’t think anyone will see it unless I release it out of interest. We just did a simple color shift on Photoshop. The dark blue color palette now is more in line with the general feel of ‘Considered Dead’ and ‘Left Hand Path’ (1990). We did a few color shift examples and eventually found a middle ground, which I assume they’re very happy with. The painting without it being shifted would have a red, orange-ish background against a colder foreground. You’d have a shadowy dark foreground with a red-ish background coming through, but I definitely prefer the final blue shift. I wouldn’t normally do that, but I conceded.
It’s one of those things where you think the color shift is simply cosmetic but yet it changes the overall mood and atmosphere of the painting.
Seagrave: It does. The color shift absolutely altered the mood of this painting. I quite like how it is now, but I wouldn’t make a habit out of doing this. I do quite like to keep things as they are, for better or worse.
A lot of artists of course work in Photoshop directly and paint digitally or sample images because everything is so easy to change now with technology. I’m more of a traditionalist with painting techniques. The process is a bit more hard work. You have to physically get the artwork photographed in the end. I have to take it to a lab and they have to balance the light, you get a digital file back and all of that. It’s an actual painting and that’s the process I like. It’s how I function in terms of creativity I think, to have that connection with a painting.
Well, it has definitely worked out for you. You’ve introduced millions to records through your art and to this day, continue to do so with a new generation revisiting these Dismembered and Entombed covers. Chris Monroy himself was fascinated by your work from a young age. Do you recall a time when an album cover made you pick up a record or even changed the way you engaged with it once you played it?
Monroy: ‘Hell Awaits’ (1985). Definitely. ‘Hell Awaits’ by Slayer and ‘Ride the Lightning’ (1984). Those two were records I picked up on art alone. I knew both bands already but when I first saw the ‘Ride the Lightning’ cover, I was like ‘holy shit’. ‘Hell Awaits’, with demons and all, was my introduction to a darker style of music. It took me from thrash metal to death metal. To be honest, I think ‘Hell Awaits’ is a death metal record. It has everything a death metal record needs to have, aside from the voice not being your typical growls and whatnot. It was my introduction to death metal. The artwork is just so evil.
Seagrave: I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. At the time when it was most crucial, I couldn’t collect albums. My friends would make me mixtapes. My first commissions were actually painting band logos on people’s bags in school when I was 13 or 14, specifically Iron Maiden, AC/DC, and such.
My friend had a record that I was really impressed with at the time. It was ‘Join the Army’ (1987) by Suicidal Tendencies. The cover has such a nostalgic painting with the bullet belts and all that. I thought it was really cool because someone had painted that and you could see that someone had painted it. To me, it was an inspiring kind of thing, as with the Iron Maiden covers that Derek Rigg designed.
I saw Iron Maiden headline in 1988 at Castle Donington, England. They had the big stage set with all of the elaborate props. This was significant because I saw that there was this incredible connection between Derek Riggs and the band. He would paint a picture, a simple picture that would evolve into characters, a stage set, and all of those other things. It shows you that something as simple as a drawing or painting can be evolved into a much bigger atmospheric world, so that was very inspiring.
That same year was the year I did my first album cover, which was for the Lawnmower of Death/Metal Duck split that later released in 1989. Album covers were somehow always in my mind and destined to be without really having many records in my collection of music.
Who would’ve thought that it would launch your career straight into the pinnacle of death metal.
Seagrave: Yeah, and then of course, Roadrunner Records in 1990. The first cover I did for Roadrunner was ‘At Death’s Door’ (1990), a death metal compilation, which I just made a print of actually. It took me about a week to restore the original image from a piece of film. That cover celebrated a 30th Anniversary this past July.
In recapping these memories of your first album cover, your work with Roadrunner, and really your journey through death metal’s rise and decline, one can’t help but notice that your drive is still there. Your work is still top tier, and you are still seemingly really active. Is this at all as exciting as it once was when you were illustrating in the early 90’s?
Seagrave: To me, it’s more interesting now. Back then, I started when I was 17 and I really didn’t have stability or an infrastructure to relax. I was always moving around, going abroad, and everything was a little bit scattered. This was before the internet or any kind of e-commerce. Communication with bands or labels was ridiculous. How did someone get a hold of me while I was traveling around? I don’t know, but they did, or I got a hold of them. You hear that someone is trying to get a hold of you and that’s how you ended up doing a commission in the early 90’s. I’ve now built a career that I never take for granted. You have to maintain it and keep evolving always.
There was one time where the death metal era was ending for me when I was in my early 20’s. I could feel it had run its course in ‘93 or ‘94. I ran out of energy for it. Now, I feel like you can’t take it for granted. I won’t do a job if I don’t feel I can do a decent job. That’s important, to take on commissions that you know you’re going to do a great job at. It wouldn’t be right for me to take on a job that doesn’t fit my style of work, especially given the amount of different art styles available today.
You had plenty of shows scheduled for the rest of the year with the likes of Autopsy at California Deathfest, Mork, Diamond Head, and Angel Witch in different locations across the world. Though COVID ruined all of that, it really speaks to your work ethic to have all of this set to happen. Was this at all what you intended when you reimagined yourselves as Skeletal Remains?
Monroy: Definitely not, man. As mentioned, we only started this band to keep us occupied when we were bored and not touring. It was never intended to be what it has become. It’s at the point where it’s starting to become somewhat of a full time gig since we’re touring almost year round now, pre-COVID of course. It’s achieving things that I dreamed of, but it’s definitely not what any of us intended. I just hope it can someday be up there with all of the bands we looked up to. I have to say, I’m happy with where we’re at and I’m excited to see where this new record takes us once we’re able to tour again.
The Entombment of Chaos arrives September 11th via Century Media. Get yours HERE.