With nearly eight years and several releases under their collective belts, the Northern Virginia-based band GRETHOR has long been a staple of the local metal scene. Combining the bleak atmosphere of black metal with a grave-bound death metal aesthetic, GRETHOR’s sound is a breath of fresh, or rather decaying, air. As of April 21, 2015, the band will be releasing their fourth EP, Cloaked in Decay, which combines their many influences of both dissonant and melodic metal bands. We spoke with vocalist Marcus Lawrence and drummer Anthony Rouse about their songwriting process, diverse musical influences, and their views on the current metal scene in Northern Virginia and the surrounding areas.

How do you go about the process for writing song lyrics?

Marcus: A lot of times, I write notebooks of lyrics, whatever comes to mind. Whatever I feel the need to jot about. Every now and then, yes, it’s for a song. But usually it’s something I’ve written already, [something] spur of the moment that I just had to put to paper. The subject matter can vary in my own head, but generally, whatever is in my head, I put it to paper immediately.

So you have a reservoir to draw from?

Marcus: Yes. I mean, like I said, every now and then I’ll write it to the song structure, but I would say that’s 15 to 20 percent of the time.

Anthony: When I write songs, I tend to come up with song titles for them. It’s an easy way for me to remember which song is which, and also, it’s helpful for the other members when I’m teaching them a song or we’re working on a song of theirs. It’s more helpful for us to remember it. I’ll sit down with Marcus and let him know, “I want this title with this song,” and he usually comes up with a way to tie it all together and interpret it.

One of the things I noticed is that the songs are very angular at times. There’s melody but it seems to take a backseat to the dissonant riffing style that gives the listener a sense of unease. What inspired that riffing style?

Anthony: A great deal of admiration and influence from different bands that aren’t afraid to experiment and push boundaries. The works of DEATHSPELL OMEGA, GORGUTS, and IMMOLATION have all had an influence on the songwriting process, as well as ULCERATE. I believe that these are bands that know how to take discordant clashes of notes and fashion them into these massive, ambitious songs that really create a rewarding listening experience. It can be challenging, but ultimately rewarding. In general, that’s what’s inspired me. It also has to do with the fact that we’re a black/death metal band. I think dissonance as a songwriting approach is something that’s currently emerging as a form nowadays. Before, it was very underrated and unheard of.

Since you mentioned GORGUTS, one the first albums that came to mind listening to Cloaked in Decay was their album Obscura. It does seem to be a bit of a French/Canadian thing all this dissonance with ION DISSONANCE and DEATHSPELL OMEGA from France.

Anthony: CRYPTOPSY is a big influence too, [which is] kind of funny since you mentioned a French Canadian thing.


Describe your writing process. Is one member the composer? How collaborative is the songwriting?

Anthony: I [was] the main composer for Cloaked in Decay. I wrote “Misery of Ignorance,” “Hemispheres Decaying,” and “Organic Tomb.” Nick Rothe and I collaborated for “Wraith,” and “Somnia Malum Infinitum” was composed by myself and former guitarist Bobby Lute. Brian [Frost] and I wrote lead parts, and [Brian] composed all of his solos. Bobby and I started working on new material before we went in to record Galaxia Infinitum. He sent some guitar pro tabs of new songs he had written, and then, the rest of the band gave their input on what to keep and what to discard. I then wrote a bunch of riffs around what Bobby had, did some arranging, and recorded some demos. “Somnia Malum Infinitum” was the first song Bobby and I put together, and it wasn’t long before we started playing it live.

Shortly after that, I started writing material by myself. I definitely felt a spark in creativity around that period; I would spend so much time with my Iceman coming up with new riffs and ideas, or changing things around with songs already written to make them better, as well as working with Bobby on stuff he was writing. Eventually, I came out with about 10 to 11 rough drafts of songs I wrote. The downside to that was that I kind of isolated myself from my friends and family, but it was very cathartic for my artistic side.

Originally, we had planned for a full length. We had 13 songs penned, though we ended up scrapping a few. Then things got shaken up when both Bobby and Andy [McComas] left the band. We had to put the brakes on songwriting in order to find new guitarists, which led us to Brian and Mike [Lewis]. Some time after their inclusion, we decided to instead shoot for an EP. So we chose five songs from the pool we had, tweaked them with inputs and suggestions from the other members, and began rehearsing them as a band. Nick wrote his bass parts, Marcus penned his lyrics, and Brian came up with some kick ass leads and solos. It wasn’t the most collaborative process, but that was because most of the material had been written by the time Brian and Mike came on board. But there was room for it, and they did have a lot to offer in terms of their abilities and ideas that certainly shaped the final product into what it is.

I really enjoyed the introduction to “Organic Tomb” and noticed a strong doom influence at work. What kind of influences do you guys have outside of traditional death and black metal?

Anthony: I’m mostly influenced by PARADISE LOST, early KATATONIA, especially BRAVE MURDER DAY, a Norwegian doom band FUNERAL, and TRIPTYKON. I definitely love adding a doom element in there, shaking things up. A lot of bands like us that play black/death metal just focus on playing fast. That’s cool and everything, but sometimes it’s good to mix it up and add a doom element to increase the dynamic variation. It’s what I really aimed for with “Organic Tomb” too; I wanted to make a dynamic song. That’s why you hear a lot of the doom sections in that song. I wanted the song to go from gloomy to progressively bleaker and bleaker. By the end, you get to this very bleak, doomy [sound].

Of course, we also have melodic influences — specifically AT THE GATES’ [albums] The Red in the Sky is Ours, With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness, and Gardens of Grief. I find them to be masters of the craft: able to create beautiful, dramatic, depressing melodies [that are] definitely unique for its time.

A greater sense of melody seems to permeate “Hemispheres Decaying,” “Organic Tomb,” and “Monody for Artemis.” Are these more recent or older compositions?

Anthony: “Organic Tomb” was a more recent composition. It started out as a more straightforward song, then I began experimenting with different ideas and adding on new riffs and sections until I ended up with this six minute “proggy” epic. “Hemispheres” was written around the same time “Somnia Malum Infinitum.” That song was me reaching out to my inner old school “melodeath” fan from high school, while still keeping the black/death feel. “Monody for Artemis” is a rerecording and was originally written by Bobby Lute. This was back when GRETHOR was playing a more atmospheric, EMPEROR-esque kind of black metal.

I’m a sucker for melody, I’ll admit. My first proper introduction to metal was IN FLAMES, and melodic death metal in general, so I’ll always have a soft spot for it in my heart. I’ve always enjoyed bands that weren’t afraid to incorporate some melody into their style. IMMOLATION is one such band that comes to mind. So I definitely like to mix up the dissonance with some melody; the real challenge is executing it tastefully where it doesn’t feel forced.

What are your thoughts on the Virginia metal scene, and where are your favorite places to perform in the area?

Anthony: Virginia is home to some of the best music scenes on the east coast. Richmond, Va. is a renowned example, and the scene in Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore is committed to supporting good music. The DMV [D.C., Maryland, and Virginia] area hosts a lot of great local acts: PERMAFROST, GLOOM, VITALITY, CAMMO SHORTS, RETICLE, and LORD, just to name a few.

There are also some dedicated individuals who work tirelessly to promote the scene and all the great bands within it. Simon Callahan, who produced and mixed our EP, runs sound at a lot of local shows in D.C. He also plays in an awesome band called MIDNIGHT EYE. Justin from PERMAFROST hosts a lot of shows at The Pinch in D.C. for both local and touring bands. Danny Boiko, Chris Kelley, and Dom Cytryn all host local shows around the area; Danny and Dom book shows at Fat Tuesdays in Fairfax, and Chris regularly put on shows at the Grog and Tankard in Stafford, Va. I also have to mention both Shannon and Tommy Chambers; they host monthly metal shows in Frederick, Md. and are some of the nicest, most committed metalheads you’ll ever meet.

Last, but not least, I have to mention Chris B., who runs a website called He goes out to a hell of a lot of shows — big or small — and updates his site about upcoming shows, both local and national, regularly. He’s a standup guy who works his ass off to keep people on the up and up on where to find metal in the DMV. As for favorite places to play, I would say D.C. and Frederick, Md. have been my personal favorites so far. I also really enjoyed playing at The Lab in Alexandria, Va. back when they were still doing metal shows.

Marcus: I really like the diversity of the Virginia scene. You have groups like INTER ARMA and BATTLEMASTER in Richmond, Va., and the scene has a punk/thrash vibe. Virginia Beach has a lot of great death metal bands like THE DAY OF THE BEAST and ARSIS.

For more updates on GRETHOR, be sure to “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and check out Cloaked in Decay on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or Reverbnation.

Ian Woods

Ian has a B.A. from James Madison University and far too much useless knowledge concerning the history of death metal. He always takes the time to attend Maryland Death Fest. When he’s not listening to black/death/doom metal, Ian enjoys running, whiskey, and good conversation.

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