An audio-visual undertaking charged by passion.
This year's halloween brought us more than horror films and sweet treats as Dark Operative unleashed INTEGRITY's and BLEACH EVERYTHING's split album, paying homage to the iconic SEPTIC DEATH and ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT 2x7 outing released in 1992 on PUSHEAD's Bacteria Sour label. With musical contributions from POWER TRIP's Riley Gale, All-American Rejects frontman Mike Kennerty, drummer Christopher Royal King of THIS WILL DESTROY YOU and mixing/mastering by the Ricky Olson and Arthur Rizk, this release proves to be more than a set of covers, rather a reimagining of the famed punk release. Music aside, the artistic prowess of Dwid Hellion and Matt Stikker offer a new visual presentation to the otherwise Pushead-fronted release from 1992.
We welcome conversation with Brent Eyestone of BLEACH EVERYTHING, artist Matt Stikker, and INTEGRITY's Dwid Hellion to learn more about each side's enthusiasm and contributions to the killer split:
The original Septic Death/Rocket From The Crypt 2x7 that inspired this release has a clear influence on your overall sound and delivery, making this is a significant element to your existence. In providing your interpretation of the Rocket From The Crypt tracks, was there any pressure on your end to doing them “justice”?
Brent: This may sound counter-intuitive to some, but there was zero pressure on these songs and zero concern at any point about doing them justice. The originals have truly been in my blood for over two decades, I’ve been playing music exclusively with Graham and Ryan for at least twelve years, and then at least another eight years with Kelly. If there was even a split second of doubt or concern heading in, then we simply wouldn’t have bothered.
The crazy thing about music is that, while it draws on amplifying sound first and foremost, it can also equally amplify insecurity, fear, and trepidation in the performers. In this band, we’ve played with each other so much and shared so many songs and albums with each other that we can confidently speak each others’ unspoken language when it comes time to take on new challenges. If anything, tackling these covers pulled out new levels of confidence individually and collectively. We found some things in that process that we didn’t know we possessed before.
These aren’t note by note covers that you’re delivering here, rather reimagined iterations for a modern time. With Ricky Olson and Arthur Rizk at the helm for mixing and mastering, the sound is flawlessly crisp and your musicianship shines with every note played. Musically, what was the goal when approaching this composition?
Brent: Thanks for saying that. Ricky and Arthur work their asses off at what they do, so it’s always a pleasure to have both of them involved. Generally, our goal is to create something we’re all super happy with at the end. On something like a cover, our otherwise-unspoken philosophy with each other is to find the sweet spot in gleaning something from the originals to take with us while imparting our own sensibilities on the existing form.
With this one, there was a significant creative breakthrough that I never explored before (figuring out that I could do 4-part harmonies with my voice), which ended up making us completely reformulate our ideas and plans for two sessions worth of other original material we’re working on currently. Down the line, it should be very easy to see that this batch of Rocket from the Crypt covers opened an even more expansive toolbox to pull from on all subsequent recordings.
Contributions by Riley Gale, Mike Kennerty, and Christopher Royal King are a distinct but welcome layer to the rich sonic palette present throughout your side of the split. How did their involvement come about and what were you looking for in adding each of them to the effort?
Brent: Riley and I have spent an extraordinary amount of time together over the last five years or so. Much of my work life is centered around helping the Power Trip guys accomplish their goals for the band and all the members in their personal lives. Naturally, in a dynamic like that, you learn a lot about each other and, at some point, we both discovered that “On a Rope” was independently our go-to song when driving to shows in cars with groups of friends as teenagers and wanting to get everyone both excited and unified (anyone can sing along to it after hearing the chorus just once). It would have been a personal affront to not have asked him to sing on it once I learned that shared experience. I think it may have been both of our first recorded duets? Definitely mine.
I’ve known Mike for something like seventeen years now and have also helped The All-American Rejects out on projects whenever possible. Through being there backstage when he warms up and taking in most of their shows behind the boards at front of house, I’ve always thought that he has an incredible voice for all things pop, rock, and punk. I really wanted him on “On A Rope” because I felt that particular cover needed more diversity of harmonization beyond just my own voice. He ended up doing some great tails on the end of his parts that ended up informing what Riley and I did on ours. I’m also now going to straight up steal that philosophy (making all the backup tails different and varied from chorus to chorus) moving forward. It’s so much cooler than sounding exactly like the previous chorus. Outside of that, Mike and I have been in tons of record stores together, digging through bins over the years. Made sense that he should be on a record that’s a tribute to insane record nerdery in the first place.
Chris is another guy I’ve known and worked with for over a decade via his band This Will Destroy You. We’re also able to communicate very efficiently without words in most situations. We cover for each other all the time behind the scenes at work and, like my relationship with Riley, we spend even more time fostering a meaningful personal friendship. When Bleach was making notes about the mix we wanted to do on these songs, Ryan had a note about wanting a specific kind of texture going on to close out “I’m Not Invisible.” I want to say I sent a message to our group text that just said something like “Chris King?” After getting a resounding yes, I’m pretty sure I just stuck a reference of the song in the Dropbox folder I share with Chris and sent him a text saying “Check Dropbox. Needs a little something at the end. Have fun.”
So, in short, all three guys are great friends that I was already collaborating with in other capacities. Oddly enough, this record isn’t the first time that all of us appear on the same slab of vinyl together. Last year, I did an LP compilation called “It Came from the Abyss.” Power Trip, The All-American Rejects, This Will Destroy You, and Bleach Everything all had songs on it and Matt Stikker happened to draw the cover for that one as well.
While you added color and vivid detail to the previously black and green glow in the dark iteration, Bleach Everything added guest performers, musical elements, and modern technology, completing a revamped audio-visual package for the modern day. Artistically, what did you want to achieve with this painting?
Matt: These guys really did do a killer reimagining of the RFTC originals; maybe don’t tell them I said this, but damn I prefer their versions. We used the original Pushead art as just sort of a waypost to point us toward something new while incorporating some additional elements that are representative of RFTC. I don’t know if I was as successful visually as the guys are sonically, but an attempt was made. Technique-wise I inked this in pen on illustration board and added the color and texture digitally, which enabled us to play around with it and give the guys in the band a little more of a hand in shaping the feel of the final piece.
A lot of details went into the morbid-like features of this piece, specifically speaking about the textured tombs and broken bones. Approximately how long did this take to put together and how was it broken down in terms of artistic phases?
Matt: This actually came together pretty quickly after my initial discussion with the band, I think something about taking the name Rocket From the Crypt literally and having just a tornado of crap rocketing out of a crypt was too punny to pass up but more importantly suggested the exploded-view type of composition right off the bat. My concept sketches are usually pretty loose but I think for this one they were really extra loose. I had the idea of having it popping out of a frame in mind early on and I let the smaller details emerge as I penciled up the final piece, it came together pretty damn quickly compared to a lot of other stuff I’ve done.
The skull, bats, tomb, and tombstone on the cover would indicate that this offering falls in line with the #monsterdrawingclub streak you had going on throughout October on social media, wouldn’t you say?
Matt: Like I said, this shit is right in my wheelhouse! What can I say, I’m attracted to a certain aesthetic.
Aside from the cover, your reinterpretation of the mummified woman on the insert of the split is vibrant and of course distinctive than that of the 1992 edition. What inspired the new additions, that being the scorpion and flames?
Matt: I wanted to do something that was a riff on the Pushead original and the cover to “Scream, Dracula, Scream” popped into my head, somehow those swirled together in my head as I talked with Brent about that retro RFTC aesthetic and it came out as some kind of Halloween pinup. We wanted it to be a fresh take so I think I deliberately didn’t look at the original mummy after I did the concept sketch in order for it to naturally diverge as the illustration progressed.
Seeing as your art would replace that of Pushead’s for the modern edition of the 2x7, did you feel any pressure or excitement even with taking this on?
Matt: Oh definitely excitement, Pushead was a big early influence for me as he has been for many many artists who work in this vein. So just having that brought up as a prompt for a project is great, I felt like there was a lot to chew on, but I tried not to ape him as much as just reference his style and hopefully that comes through a little.
What made the 1992 release so special was the availability and added bonuses, including iconic Pushead artwork, detailed lyric sheets, and more. Seeing as vinyl is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, did you feel then that your take on the effort should have the same level of creative investment?
Brent: The most frequent comment I’ve received about the LP so far is various iterations of “it’s impossible for online photos to do this justice.” Everything from Stikker’s attention to detail, all the Easter eggs, right down the custom weight of the board stock and the soft touch laminate finishing was all done to create a sense of gestalt that simply cannot be accomplished in the 2-D digital realm.
So yes, all the testing, experimentation, and labor involved with the physical packaging was an intentional parallel to the audio, as this was absolutely intended to pay proper respects to how meticulous and labor-intensive Pushead was with Pusmort, Bacteria Sour, and his fanclub during this era.
With that said, you depended upon the mighty Matt Stikker to handle visuals for the release. Seeing as his work fronts a wide array of prominent heavy records, was there anything in particular that inspired your decision to work together?
Brent: Stikker and I go back to a custom barf bag that he mailed me that now prominently sits in a beautiful frame inside of my office. The Sizzle Pie pizza crew out of Portland (particularly Stikker and Tall Boy) caught my eye some years back when they were all first making big waves in the pen and ink game. Tall Boy’s zine “Night Watch” had this great issue that was all of his friends (are you detecting a theme yet?) illustrating barf bags in their own style. For some reason, I was obsessed with the concept (as was Nick Cave at the time, having issued “The Sick Bag Song” box set concurrently), so I made sure to outbid everyone else vying for the originals on both guys’ Instagram auctions.
Once I bought that first piece off Stikker, we started a dialogue and figured out quickly that we wanted to work together as much as humanly possible on every project where there was the opportunity to do so. This split LP is actually the third collaboration we’ve done at Dark Operative. The first project was this beautiful gatefold for the aforementioned “It Came from the Abyss” comp. The second was a collections LP for Power Trip called “Opening Fire: 2008-2014.”
From Witch Vomit to Outer Heaven and Power Trip, you’ve worked on numerous album covers across the heavy spectrum, offering a variety of visual companions for those waiting to get into the riffs. With this particular release being significant to both bands’ trajectory, what does it mean to you to be trusted with the artistic duties?
Matt: It’s awesome to have the opportunity to work with Bleach Everything on this for sure, these guys have cultivated such a bleak aesthetic throughout all their previous releases that does such a good job augmenting their sound. Really cool to work with them to take a bit of a left turn and sort of give them an artistic Halloween costume so to speak. I have worked with Brent from BE on some previous Dark Operative releases and I think he and I found ourselves on the same page from the get-go with this piece. I always appreciate having that level of trust and rapport with bands that I work with, because of how much creative labor and energy goes into making the music and how much context and weight the associated imagery carries.
From providing ideas/concepts to seeing the art itself, what was that collaborative process like?
Brent: When it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty, we’ll initiate an email thread specific to that project. It’s a great way to make sure that all relevant communication is in one spot and not scattered across texts and DM’s on however many different platforms.
Creatively, we’ll usually start with rough pencils wherein Stikker will try to capture the dynamism and energy behind the concept, if that makes sense. I liken it to the “great song” test: if it sounds great on a single acoustic guitar, it stands to reason that the full arrangement will follow suit. The same goes with getting a good rough sketch down. If it gives you the right feeling and fully excites you at that stage, then you’re golden. On this one, I seem to recall him blowing it out of the water instantly.
From there, the next stage was mapping it all out compositionally and what I’ll call “final pencils.” Then it was one more round of scrutinization/inspection before inking time.
Working with Stikker, by the time the ink hits, every crucial decision on composition has been made at that point. The time to hem and haw would have been on the roughs, so once he sends photos or scans of the inks, it’s really just a matter of soaking it in and enjoying it before moving to the next stage.
On all of the projects I’ve done with him, once inks are done, an entire world of options opens up in terms of coloring, printing methods, and how to lay the whole thing out for prepress. He works black and white on art boards and colors digitally for the stuff we do here. It’s a smart and efficient way to ensure that there’s always multiple options to look at and consider during the coloring phase.
On this particular one, we went through more concepts and comps than anything we’d worked on prior together. This wasn’t because of any disagreements or variance of artistic vision, but rather because we both wanted to completely exhaust all known possibilities toward getting something that we felt was classic and enduring and not beholden to a style that would communicate a specific time and place. I sincerely hope we were able to accomplish that as time goes by and people come across this one.
As a musician yourself, how important do you feel it is for bands to invest in art that is representative of the vision they seek for the music embodied within their records? And how fucking sick is this split?
Matt: Visual presentation is a crucial component of how we approach a recording, even if you hear a record before you see the artwork there is such a rich amount of context that a piece of art can give to the entire feeling you get from the music. And it doesn’t have to be this overwrought statement of intent, I think about stuff like "Transilvanian Hunger” or “Nervous Breakdown” and the ability of even those raw images to just make your hair stand on end when they’re part of a cohesive whole. For that reason I’m always appreciative when bands choose to include me in the process of manifesting their art. At the end it’s all about complementing the type of energy inherent in the music. And in this case both bands brought it, this split is killer!
As Matt Stikker states, visual presentation is an essential element to a record's accessibility. It is representative of the music embodied within, and if failed to execute effectively, it can affect audience engagement. That said, the collaboration between Stikker and Brent of BLEACH EVERYTHING is a valuable one for they both understand the significance of artistic introduction.
Dwid Hellion of the mighty INTEGRITY is one who's always invested on the visuals for his compositions. The pummeling musicianship alone isn't enough to satisfy Hellion, who takes it upon himself to illustrate his own album covers in diverse ways. INTEGRITY's Septic Death Karaoke features his work once more as he set out to revitalize a classic set of tracks cemented in punk legacy. Hellion elaborates:
Following prior Septic Death Karaoke releases and you’re back with a completely revamped and reimagined take on the classic tracks. What inspired this revisit?
Dwid: It had been decades since the first recordings of Septic Death Karaoke. Some pressings became rather expensive. Last year, Dark Operative suggested we do a reissue of the old version as a split, and I thought that we could actually record a superior version, rather than just reissue the original take.
Decades apart yet it seems that this recent release is an era ahead, due in part to brilliant production choices that bring out the best out of each instrument, truly refining the raw elements of punk. With the original source material available to you, were there any personal goals that you set out to achieve when letting loose this new edition?
Dwid: I had envisioned a more ferocious version of the songs. I think that Tim (Much Luv studio) and Arthur Rizk did a great job making this recording sound vicious and abrasive.
Poor dude on the cover stands firm with arrows to his back and a punctured voodoo doll in his grip. Mighty twisted, don’t you think?
Dwid: The cover artwork on the Integrity side is a homage to the Septic Death EP, “Burial” 7” artwork. I reimagined the Pushead artwork to have the main character/puppet-master look like my guitarist, Domenic, and the voodoo doll is drawn to resemble me. It’s something of an inside joke.
The vibrant green color choice is also a neat addition to both 2018 and this year’s Halloween release, which isn’t something you see throughout Integrity’s expansive discography, only appearing on In Contrast of Sin (1990). As a visual person yourself, how much of this do you feel has an overall effect on the listener and the perception of the music?
Dwid: The color choice was a homage to the Septic Death LP, “Need So Much Attention”. It also had a putrid green color.
With being responsible for artistic duties on Integrity’s releases, including this split, does it influence your approach to the music at all? If so, how?
Dwid: Sometimes the art comes before the music or lyrics and can be used as direction toward the creation of the song. I enjoy creating the artwork for Integrity. I feel it adds an extra dimension of depth to the music.
Pushead is also one who preferred to take control of the visuals for his musical projects. Though not all bands consist of brilliant artists, how important do you feel it is for bands to be heavily involved in the artistic end of a composition?
Dwid: It is definitely important for me personally, but I have an exact vision of what the artwork should depict. Involving another artist to create the imagery can often conflict with that direction.
In a contemporary society where we’ve become so accustomed to having access to an influx of instant information (music, news, data, etc.), we engage with what “pops” and find most appealing to us. That being said, album covers have the ability to make us take a second look and resonate with listeners as a companion to the music. What’s your take on the importance of the album cover?
Dwid: Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, album cover artwork was an important tool to use while deciding which record to buy. This was pre-internet/pre-mp3 so the artwork was the aspect that would attract me initially.
Congratulations on breathing new life to a release that sparked energy to many almost three decades ago. You both certainly did it justice.
Dwid: Thank you. I grew up on Septic Death’s music, it has been a great honor for me to play a small role in their musical legacy.