Latest release: Psychology of Death (Riot!)

Formed in 1985, Sydney’s Mortal Sin are Australia’s undisputed giants of thrash metal. Like most bands that have lasted a quarter of a century, Mortal Sin have had their fair share of ups and downs. Staying true to a style of music they helped make famous in Australia, they are currently celebrating the twenty fifth anniversary of their debut album Mayhemic Destruction, an album that put Mortal Sin on the map and had critics calling them the next Metallica.

Highly respected by their peers, Mortal Sin have shared the stage with Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth and Overkill to name just a few. Over the past three years Mortal Sin have been busy touring and writing new material for their soon to be released studio album Psychology of Death. For the last year headbangers have had a taste of Psychology of Death with the Mortals road testing a couple of new tracks live. On July 22 Mortal Sin will return to Newcastle’s Cambridge Hotel for one night of mayhem, destruction and thrashing metal madness. Cameron Edney caught up with the bands mainman Mat Maurer to discuss Psychology of Death, the upcoming Newcastle performance and celebrating the  anniversary of the iconic Mayhemic Destruction. Here is what Mat had to say to all the sinners…

Q: Hey Mat, thanks so much for taking some time out to have a chat with us. How’s everything going?
A: Awesome mate, now that we’ve finished the album and we’ve come through all the emotions… we’re relieved, and excited.

Q: The samples that have been released online really show how good this album is. You guys must be really pleased with this one!
A: When we finally heard everything, it was exactly what we wanted. It was a long time coming; it really was a hard slog. It took us three and a half years but I think the wait was worth it.

Q: Some of the tracks that really stood out to me when listening to the samples were ‘Burned Into Your Soul’, ‘Blood Of My Enemies’, ‘Kingdom Of Pain’ and ‘Hatred’… ‘Burned Into Your Soul’ in particular I was drawn to immediately and it sounds like something that could have easily fitted on the last Testament album. I read that you wanted to make an album that could live up to the most recent and very successful Testament and Overkill albums; when the time came to put the new album together was that a high priority, making the album compared to those or was it something that came a little later on?
A: What we wanted to do was a simple thrash album, sometimes you can get so caught up in the complexities of everything that you forget about what thrash is all about. This time around we said we wanted to go back to our roots, we’re going to write an album like Mayhemic Destruction: simple old school thrash! When we talked about what we wanted to do for this album we said we wanted to put a mix of Kreator’s Hordes of Chaos, Testament’s The Formation of Damnation and a few other things, as well as some early Mortal Sin of course.

Q: How did you push yourself musically and creatively this time around to come up with the best results possible for the new album?
A: [Laughs] You don’t wanna know the answer to that. We don’t have enough time to discuss that [laughs]. I think it was an interesting process this time but getting the best result was more important than anything. We’re all passionate musicians; we’ve been doing this for such a long time now, we’re the same as any band, we have our musical differences but the end product is the most important thing. How you get to that end product sometimes is a mystery to everyone. It just happens. Sometimes you have to work really hard at it… sometimes God knows how it happens. When I started writing for this album it had been three, nearly four years and I couldn’t even bloody remember how to write a song. You get yourself into that mode of playing after recording your last album, and when it’s time to start writing again you think to yourself… okay how do I do this again? That’s the way I felt but once we got into the groove of it we got a really good result.

Q: The buzz on the Internet has been great and comments have been positive not only from fans in Australia but overseas also. When the album is finally released in full what are you hoping the fans will take out of this?
A: Well, I don’t care what the fans take away from it [laughs]; well I do, but I really hope that we can finally take something away from this one. Finally get our name back out to where it should be after 25 years. It’s a little disturbing when you tour overseas, and some metal fans know who you are but you still get people coming up and asking “Oh, have you been around for 25 years?”

Q: It’s funny that you hear things like that still these days. Back in the mid-80’s Mortal Sin were considered to be the next Metallica!
A: That’s the difference between having a major record label behind you and not having a major label behind you. It’s so much harder these days for any kind of band; I know people in bigger bands that are struggling at the moment, it’s just the way it is with downloads and everything else… There’s just no money to be made in records anymore.

Q: The tentative release date for Psychology of Death is mid-August 2011. Has there been an official release date set yet?
A: We’re negotiating with Nuclear Blast at the moment, so we have set August as the month to release it. If we get the rights to Australia, which we’re asking for, then we will release it around that time. If not, then obviously we will have to wait ’till Nuclear Blast is ready to release it. Hopefully they will let us have the rights to Australia then we can bring it out in August. It’s ready to go now actually but we just have to get the go ahead.

Q: With all new albums you hit the road hard spreading the word. You have already booked two shows ahead of the album’s release, one in Sydney and one in Newcastle. What can the metal fans expect when you hit the stage? Will you be showcasing many new live tracks?
A: We’re doing four new songs, two of which we’ve been playing for over a year now. We’re doing ‘Blood of My Enemies’ and ‘Hatred’, ‘Psychology of Death’ and ‘Denial’. We might mix it up a bit as we go along. We want to see what the fans feelings are. If they start yelling out for certain songs then we will play them. Until they get to hear the new album we’ll stick to the ones we like. Not to say that we don’t like them all but when you’re playing an hour long set and you have six albums to choose from you have to play your best songs. Once the albums been out for a while we might play some different songs’. We’ll see what happens.

Q: With two shows already booked to promote the new album I’m curious to know… was there any special reason you guys chose to add a show in Newcastle?
A: Well, to be honest… we’re just booking whatever we can get at the moment! In Sydney you can’t get a show anywhere until November. Just about any venues you call are booked out. Newcastle popped up and we said “Yep let’s take it.” Hopefully everyone up in Newcastle will come and check it out, listen to the new songs and have a great night. We want to get out there and play; we will do a proper album release tour but a lot will depend on the record company negotiations. There’s talk about doing some dates in Europe closer to the end of the year so we will be pushing it, that’s for sure.

Q: Over the years you’ve had the pleasure of touring with many artists from Metallica to Anthrax and more recently Overkill… Whilst on the road who’s given you the best advice and what was it?
A: Definitely Bobby [“Blitz” Ellsworth] from Overkill, he’s such a nice guy. You can ask him anything and he will give you an answer. They manage themselves and they know we manage ourselves as well, and when we toured with them over in Europe we found Bobby really easy to talk to. He was happy to divulge not the nitty-gritty information, but anything he felt that he could answer for us. He’s actually helping us out at the moment with these negotiations. He’s really cool.

Q: When you look back over the years at the countless shows you’ve played, is there any one or two shows that stand out as being the craziest, those shows that in your mind will always be amongst the best you’ve played thus far?
A: There’s so many and for so many different reasons… but probably playing on the main stage at the Wacken Festival to a crowd that was between 60 and 80 thousand people. It’s not all the time that you get to play in front of a crowd that size. It’s a festival and you know that not everyone’s there to see you, but you see that many people standing in front of you and you hope that music’s sinking into their heads and hope they walk away from your set having had a positive experience!

Q: How about the crowds… you have the best seat in the house when it comes to seeing what’s happening in the crowd whilst playing, what’s some of the craziest shit you’ve seen taking place whilst onstage?
A: Oh I don’t know man… there’s been all sorts of things, everywhere you go it’s the same but totally different if you know what I mean. The generality of it all is the same, everyone’s out there banging their heads and moshing in the pit, but the passion is different in each place you go to. South America was the craziest! We played AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ at most of the shows over there and the crowds were going off, singing and chanting. They’re really crazy over there!

Q: When you look back at the shows you were doing in the early 80s and you were playing venues like Seven Hills Inn and the Cobra Club. These days you’re playing rooms of all sizes. I want to know, how the fan base has changed over the years, especially in terms of supporting the local live music scene… During the 80s live gigs were always the place to be. Do you think audiences today have become too complacent and lazy when it comes to supporting local bands; especially when comparing the scene now to the thriving local scene we had in the late 80s?
A: I don’t know whether it’s complacent. I think it’s because there is so many international acts coming out here nowadays that the bottom line is the dollar. Every time a concert’s announced you have to come up with money to pay for high priced tickets. $160 for Motley Crüe, $150 for Iron Maiden… I think that’s what’s doing it and everyone’s suffering from that. Also the past ten years the law stating you must have an Australian artist supporting international acts disappeared; I’ve heard that it’s coming back in but that has hurt it also. Every year that Soundwave is on there will be all of these sideshows, but there’s no Aussie bands on them. No one gets to see them, there may be 150 awesome bands in Sydney but no one knows cause you don’t get that type of exposure opening for the international shows anymore.

Q: I’ve seen you play a number of times over the years and you always put on a kick arse performance. You’re certainly no stranger to touring right across Australia. For me, it’s always great to see faces in the crowd that are watching you live for the very first time, even after so many years together. Are you noticing a much younger more curious crowd attending the shows these days?
A: They actually come up and tell you afterwards that it’s the first time they’ve ever seen us and that’s awesome! That’s pretty important to us. If we can convert anyone we’re happy with that. Every year there is a new bunch of kids turning eighteen and they’ve either heard of us from their parents or older brothers and they want to come to see the shows and that’s really cool that we’ve been able to keep that going over the years. If we’re not getting new fans into the metal scene… not just into Mortal Sin but the whole metal scene, then it’s not going to grow.

Q: Mat, we’ve hit the part of the interview where our readers get to find out more about the real you… growing up what was the first concert you attended and how much of an impact did that have on you musically?
A: I can’t remember what the first one was, but the first one I remember that influenced me the most was seeing AC/DC playing underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1975. I went to see them with my brother… Rose Tattoo played, John Paul Young played and they played on a barge underneath the bridge and that was one thing that always really stuck in my mind, I loved it. It was probably the one concert that made me want to do this.

Q: Did you always envision yourself as someone that would be involved in music growing up or were you goals different?
A: The funny thing is I was pushed into it. I always loved singing and always loved music, and when I was in year eleven some guys were getting a band together at school and they came up to me and said “You’re the singer”, and I said, “What..? What do you mean?” Next thing I had become the singer and I really liked it. I suppose that was the start of it all.

Q: Many of the world’s biggest thrash bands are celebrating the 25th anniversary of some of the most definitive metal albums of all time: Megadeth’s Peace Sells, Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Slayer’s Reign in Blood. Mayhemic Destruction also turns twenty five this year. To look back and see this unknown Aussie band in the early 80s releasing an album that’s not only had such an impact on the local scene and around the world is no doubt gratifying.
A: Yeah and the fact that it’s still really popular 25 years later… of course we’re really proud of that. It is an achievement whether anyone recognizes it or not, we recognize it. I think it is an achievement in itself that we’ve survived for that long and that we’re now going stronger than ever!

Q: What comes to mind when you look back on Mortal Sin’s early days, recording Mayhemic Destruction in particular. Does it seem like a lifetime ago or does it feel like you went in and recorded it yesterday?
A: It’s kind of strange, it doesn’t seem like it was 25 years for sure. I can remember so many things from the past twenty five years that when you put it all in context, yeah it is a long time ago. Maybe if we weren’t still going strong it would have all faded away in my memory. The fact that we’re still playing four or five songs off Mayhemic Destruction live and people are still screaming out wanting to hear them and they’re still buying it, there’s got to be something about it…

Q: You’ve had one hell of a ride over the past twenty five years. You’ve played with all the biggest thrash bands from every corner of the globe, you’ve had great success in Australia, many overseas tours, released an iconic thrash album. These days you’re managing yourselves. Have you ever considered writing an autobiography of your life in the industry?
A: We’ve already had one written about us. Haven’t you seen it? It’s called The Story of Anvil!

Q: [Laughs] I guess there would be many bands out there that can relate to their story.
A: It’s true, everything that they’ve been through we’ve been through. If you weren’t in the Big Four or in the top five or six bands you didn’t get anywhere. I’ve looked at those polls… the top 50, the top 100 thrash albums of all time and Mortal Sin doesn’t exist on any of them. Obviously we’re doing a lot of things wrong and we need to start doing a lot of things right if we ever want to be remembered in the same way as any of those top five or six bands. Hopefully we’ll start getting there… getting a good record label is one thing, someone that will give the album a really good push and get the record out there, and getting on a really good tour, that’s what’s needed! You can’t be one of the top any kind of bands if you’re sitting here playing shows in Australia, no one’s going to know who you are. We know that we have to go over to Europe as many times as we can, no matter how much it friggin’ costs us and keep playing shows until people sit up and go “Wow, you guys a fuckin awesome!”

Q: Although there are so many different aspects of the music industry, from touring to recording, licensing and merchandise; after so many years in this biz, what do you feel has been the single most important lesson you’ve learned?
A: Oh God… you learn stuff every day. I don’t know, you don’t stop learning, it’s never one thing; it’s a combination of ten or twenty things.

Q: What is the best advice you can offer upcoming local bands trying to get there name out there?
A: If I had to give any advice to any Australian band it would be don’t stay here, get going; get out of here and go play! Go live in a car, do whatever it takes. That’s one thing that I regret… I wish that we did that back in 1988-89; relocate and be where all the action is. When we had the push we still had that problem of being here and whenever a tour would pop up we’d say, “Can we be on this or that tour?” and they’d say “No, you’re in Australia”. It’s the same thing now. We get overlooked because that’s the first thing they say and it’s going to cost two and a half thousand dollars just to get us over there. We’d been happy to pay that ourselves just get us on the friggin’ tours… There’s no money in record sales anymore so record companies aren’t pushing like they used to, they’re just there to make their money! They want you to have sold records previously to prove that you can sell records before they will take you on, and their budgets have been cut by probably 85% to what they were fifteen years ago thanks to illegal downloads and iTunes.

Q: Psychology of Death will be out very soon and the live shows are being booked as we speak. What other immediate plans are set for Mortal Sin? Are you doing anything special to celebrate the anniversary of Mayhemic Destruction?
A: Yeah but it may not happen until early next year. Something is underway, we’re in planning stages and it will be a really big night with some really big awesome special guests hopefully. We’re looking at April for that but that’s about all I can tell you at this time.

Q: Thanks again for chatting with us. All the best of luck with the new album and have a blast playing the upcoming Newcastle show! Do you have any last words for our readers?
A: Anyone up in Newcastle please come out to the gig, the last two times that we played in Newcastle were memorable for all the wrong reasons. The last time we played up there Megadeth were headlining a festival down in Sydney and the time before that was the floods that devastated Newcastle back in 2006 so anyone in and around Newcastle please come out to the gig, check out the new songs and have a great night.